COLFAX — Preliminary stages of a multi-year proposal to transform the 500-acre gravel quarry at 1208 Highway 117 S. near Colfax into an outdoor recreational facility were officially made public Tuesday by the Colfax Auxiliary Park Board.
The announcement came at a special work session of the Colfax City Council, setting the stage for the city to potentially take ownership of the property currently owned by Martin Marietta Materials Inc.
Mining operations by the current owner ceased early this year, and the company is in talks with the board to donate the land, just south of Interstate 80 and valued at roughly $1 million, to the city.
If the deal goes through, auxiliary park board president Doug Garrett said the ideal situation would be a signed 28E agreement between the city and the park board — a 501(C)3 nonprofit organization — in which the city would annex and retain ownership of the property while park operations would be conducted by the nonprofit.
“This project is going to take years, and literally millions of dollars,” Garrett said. “How many, we don’t know. It will depend upon what we really want to undertake. But it could well be that most of us in this room may not be alive when it’s totally complete. But the opportunity is too great not to take advantage of it.”
Of the ideas proposed are hiking/biking trail opportunities, fishing, RV and primitive camping, boating, swimming and potential access to the South Skunk River.
The city would not lose any tax revenue due to the acquisition, and Garrett said the initial costs to Colfax would be policing the area, temporary public works labor and $300 per year in insurance premiums.
Auxiliary park board officials also mentioned the additional opportunity of 280 acres on the north side of I-80 that is currently leased by Martin Marietta to an independent farmer through 2015. Garrett said the company will likely offer to sell the 250 acres to the farmer, but some of the land is not tillable. The board hopes to reach an agreement with the farmer to use the non-viable wetland as part of the recreational area.
Before any construction moves forward the property has to go through a reclamation process, returning the quarry close to its natural state. The Iowa Department of Agriculture will have to inspect the property and park board officials have requested the Iowa Department of Natural Resources do depth, aquatic life and vegetation tests on the nearly 250 acres of lake surface.
If the auxiliary park board accepts the property as is, Martin Marietta has expressed initial willingness to donate an additional $200,000 to pay for the reclamation process or to be used by the park board for project starts in the recreational area. Representatives for Martin Marietta are not speaking publicly about the donation at this time.
Auxiliary park board secretary Cindy Van Dusseldorp emphasized during Tuesday’s meeting the additional money is not a done deal and further negotiations will be done before the city or park board takes control of the property no earlier than April 2015.
Colfax City Council members Karla Jones and Brad Magg were the two council members present for the presentation with Bryan Poulter, Steve Theis and Kathryn Gullion absent. Both council members appeared receptive to the city considering annexation of the property, but whether the full council will accept the property following the official donation is still in question. Jones said Tuesday that she sees the proposed rec area as a piece of a long-term, comprehensive plan for Colfax.
“From my perspective, this is a tremendous opportunity to this region and Colfax,” Jones said. “This doesn’t come knocking at cities’ doors like it is for us. I would really like to see it developed into recreational reclamation so we can use the land and it doesn’t become something that is set aside. That is not what Colfax wants for our community.”
Iowa House Rep. Dan Kelley (D-Newton) and senator-elect and Jasper County Economic Development Director Chaz Allen were present at Tuesday’s meeting. Both offered their support for the project, and Allen hoped the recreational area could tie into the economic activity of the Iowa Speedway in Newton.
“It could include Colfax into that economic impact that happens four to five times per year,” Allen said. “But this is something I’m real excited about. ... We have to realize what we can do to improve (Colfax’s) front door, but it also impacts all of Jasper County as a gateway into the Newton area and further.”
To draft the project, park board officials are looking to Iowa’s academic institutions. Carl Rogers is an associate professor of landscape architecture at Iowa State University and co-director of ISU’s Community Design Lab. He told the council and board members Tuesday that he’s excited about the project because gravel quarry reclamation is “at the heart of landscape architecture,” and the project fulfills all of his program’s curriculum requirements.
Contracting initial designs of the project through the academic institution will save the park board $8,000 to $15,000 in design fees. Rogers said that initial designs would be prepared by the end of ISU’s spring semester.
Those interested in volunteering for the auxiliary park board to be a part of the planning process may contact Garrett at 515-250-8857 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.