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Polk City taking actions to annex portion of Big Creek State Park

Though the meets and bounds have not been set, this is the area of Big Creek State Park that could be annexed by Polk City. The purple line, along with the yellow line outlining the lake’s eastern shore, shows the approximately 120-acre parcel of land to be annexed. If approved, the annexation would allow sanitary sewer water from the annexed land to be drained through Polk City. The red lines outline land owned by the State of Iowa. Submitted image
Though the meets and bounds have not been set, this is the area of Big Creek State Park that could be annexed by Polk City. The purple line, along with the yellow line outlining the lake’s eastern shore, shows the approximately 120-acre parcel of land to be annexed. If approved, the annexation would allow sanitary sewer water from the annexed land to be drained through Polk City. The red lines outline land owned by the State of Iowa. Submitted image

It’s a unique and slow-moving process, but in the end it could mean better sanitary sewer treatment for Big Creek State Park.

Polk City is in the process of annexing land within the park along the east side of Big Creek Lake. A majority of the approximately 120-acre land area to be annexed is owned by the federal government, with the exception of a small parcel of land that is owned by the State of Iowa. The purpose of annexing the land is to allow sanitary sewer water from the marina area and restrooms on the east side of the lake to drain through Polk City, rather than being stored in a lagoon to the east of the lake near NW 142nd Avenue.

Polk City belongs to the Wastewater Reclamation Authority (WRA), along with such nearby cities as Altoona, Ankeny, Des Moines and Johnston. Gary Mahannah, Polk City city administrator, said a stipulation of belonging to the WRA is that the only waste that can be contributed to the sanitary sewer system must come from within the member city’s limits.

“The best way for treatment is to send it through Polk City, and the only way to do that is to annex a section of Big Creek State Park,” Mahannah said.

No modifications would need to be made to Polk City’s existing sanitary sewer system to handle the drainage from the annexed land. Mahannah said Polk City connects to the Rock Creek Sanitary Sewer, and Big Creek State Park would incorporate equalization practices to prevent large amounts of drainage from flowing through Polk City at once.

Discussions on annexing the land began 10 years ago, but for various reasons, the annexation process never went anywhere. Mahannah said what’s different this time around is that Big Creek State Park needed to do something or they would have to put funding toward the existing lagoon to either expand it or create additional lagoons. By sending sanitary sewer water through Polk City, it will create cost savings for the state.

No taxpayer dollars will be spent on the annexation and there will be a decreased chance of odorous airs reaching Polk City from the lagoon. While Mahannah said the community does not experience much smell coming from the lagoon right now; if more lagoons are needed, there could be an increased chance of smells wafting down to the city.

“When you have a community less than two miles from it (the lagoon), you want people to be able to be outside,” Mahannah said. “That’s what’s really in it for us.”

The annexation may also lead to future development for Polk City to the east of the annexed land, as well as improvements made to existing city land. Downstream areas would be able to hook into the sanitary sewer system coming from Big Creek, and the Tournament Club of Iowa area would be able to have a lift station installed.

The annexation is unique because normally, the entity annexing the land becomes responsible for maintaining the land. In this case, the state park will continue to be in charge of the land’s upkeep, which includes maintaining the roads, water and sewer systems and removing snow.

“At the end of the day, the state park wants to maintain itself as a state park,” Mahannah said.

Because of the project’s uniqueness, the process for getting the annexation paperwork filed and approved is taking longer than usual. The Polk City City Council approved a form of petition for the annexation at their regular meeting Monday, March 25. The state will also have to sign a petition for annexation, though Mahannah is not sure when that will happen. From there, the actual annexation process will begin. That process includes consulting with taxable bodies on the tax consequences, of which there are none because state parks are not taxable properties, and holding public hearings where community members can have a chance to voice their opinions about the possible annexation. Finally, the City Development Board, a state agency, will need to approve the annexation.

Mahannah said it could take three months or longer for the annexation process to be completed.

“It all depends on what hoops we have to jump through,” Mahannah said.

Those “hoops” could mean dealing with the boundaries of land owned by either the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Department of Natural Resources that come into play with the sanitary sewer.

While discussing the possible annexation during the March 25 council meeting, one of the council members described the annexation process as a Swiss watch because there are a lot of pieces moving together. Mahannah agrees that is a good way of describing the project.

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