Economic development can come in many flavors. One that is popular is the development of a lake. That appears to be happening in northern Missouri in Sullivan County where a large lake is proposed.

It would be near the town of Milan, west of Kirksville. Driving through that area gives a strong feeling that this is a depressed area. In fact, a large part of northern Missouri needs an economic boost. Small towns in that section of the state are hurting, with the loss of people and businesses. It has agriculture but not much of anything else.

What is planned is the East Locust Creek Water Reservoir, which would cover about 2,200 acres. Water from the lake would supply a 10-county region. That’s a huge benefit. But the lake also would be used for recreation. While people may not come by the tens of thousand, it would be a draw and an economic shot in the arm.

To build it, the state is going to pitch in $2 million. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide more than half of the funding needed for the lake. Sullivan County voters have approved a half-cent sales tax for it. A $10 million municipal bond is helping to fund land acquisition. The $2 million from the state will assist the North Central Missouri Regional Water Commission to acquire property needed for the lake.

We all know that a good highway spurs economic growth. One of the best examples in Missouri is Interstate 70 in St. Charles County. Northern Missouri is not without good highways. There is multi-lane Highway 36 that runs across the state from St. Joseph to Hannibal. But it has not resulted in growth compared to counties in central or southern Missouri, which are served by good roads. In the western part of Missouri, Interstate 35 goes through north Missouri counties. It has been an economic boost to sections north of Kansas City.

We have often wondered what is going to happen to northern Missouri counties that border Iowa. It’s a no growth area. Is it a no hope area also? And there doesn’t seem to be anything on the table that will keep those counties well and alive.

Remember when two large lakes were proposed in and near Franklin County. The U.S. Corps of Engineers had proposed lakes in the Meramec Basin. One was to be built near Sullivan by damming the Meramec River. The other was to be near Union, with a dam proposed on the Bourbeuse River. In the beginning, most of the benefits discussed centered on recreation. Then as some opposition developed by environmentalists, the benefit tone switched to flood control and water supplies. The Meramec and Bourbeuse rivers’ flood waters have been devastating in the past. Talk to people who once had clubhouses along those rivers!

The Meramec Basin reservoirs were killed by Congress even though land had been acquired for the Meramec River Dam. There was more concern about bats and other wildlife being flooded out of their natural habitats than what the benefits would be to people in this area, and the entire St. Louis region. The economic benefits would have been enormous, plus recreation, which has a value to people. It later was learned that Lake of the Ozarks’ interests were backing the environmentalists because they feared the competition from the proposed new lakes.

To not build the lakes was a missed opportunity for economic development. However, this area’s location has been a major factor leading to growth. Being next to St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis is a major plus.

Northern Missouri needs more lakes to breathe new life and opportunities into that section of the state. It’s one of those “build it and they will come” situations.