A public meeting became a shouting match two times Wednesday night as Polk County residents clashed with county conservation board members over development plans.

The meeting’s intended focus was numerous projects made possible when voters last fall approved $50 million in borrowing to maintain and improve parks, trails, waterways and other areas.

But the discord — and most of the two-hour board meeting — was about the county’s plan to build a new entrance road and nature center at Jester Park, which covers 1,834 acres along Saylorville Lake. Neighbors argue the changes would increase traffic and harm wildlife and prairie.

Twice, Chairman Mike Smith, who set a limit of three to four minutes for comments, asked speakers to “wrap it up.” Both times he was met with calls of resistance from the audience.

Tracy Mack-Boyles, a neighbor who has spoken out against the Jester Park projects for weeks, spoke for several minutes. When Smith asked her to stop, crowd members yelled for her to continue speaking, prompting a stern response.

“I’m a volunteer citizen … we’ve been here a long time tonight, I’m not going to sit here all night,” Smith said. “I want to get other people up here.”

Smith said he was frustrated that the board has been accused of misleading the public.

Development is ready to begin on several conservation projects across the county following the passage of the Polk County Land and Water Legacy Bond in November. The county may borrow up to $50 million.

At Wednesday’s meeting at Jester Park near Granger, the conservation board approved a conceptual plan that allocated almost $25 million to projects over the next three years.

It’s important to remember, however, that funding must be approved by the Polk County Board of Supervisors for each individual project, and that plans could be subject to change, said Dennis Parker, the county’s conservation director.

The new road and center at Jester Park are planned to be built on an area that currently is 40 acres of redeveloped prairie. Though the county insists no prairie will actually be lost, several residents in attendance argued that cutting a road through the area will decrease the amount of wildlife, such as pheasants and deer, using the area.

The master plan for the park was developed in 2009. Residents were invited to public meetings then, the county said.

Parker said the conservation department is working with park neighbors to mitigate their concerns. One measure the county is considering is putting a tree line along the edge of the prairie and relocating the road so that neighbors don’t have to see traffic going into the park.

Additionally, plans for an RV sewer dump station along the road have been altered. The plan worried neighbors who believed it would be an eyesore, but the location of the station in the master plan was a mistake, Parker said — the station has always been planned for an interior section of the park.

Many also argued that the county misled voters in the campaign to pass the bond initiative. Kristen Boyles, a resident who lives near the park, told the board she thinks voters believed a majority of the money would be used to enhance the area’s drinking water. She said she feels too much is being spent on structural improvements and buildings at the parks.

“I think the reason that there was 72 percent voter approval for it was because people had the perception that it was to clean our water,” she said. “It sickens me that out of $24 million that is slated to be spent in the next three years ... only $2 million of it has anything to do with water.”

Through the meeting, Parker repeated that the county’s projects would have wide benefits. The nature center at Jester Park, he said, will be huge for educational opportunities, especially for the 6,000 schoolchildren who visit the park each year.

Parker dismissed the notion that voters were misled during the campaign for the borrowing. Clean drinking water was a major message of the campaign that was prominently featured on mailings and brochures, but Parker said infrastructure improvements were featured as well. He said he discussed the projects at numerous local meetings.





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