Living in the Dunes is all about “bonding to the landscape.”
That’s how Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, expresses
the abiding commitment of her organization and its supporters to the south
shore of Lake Michigan.
On Wednesday, at a Fast Track Luncheon organized by the Chesterton/Duneland
Chamber of Commerce at the Hilton Garden Inn, Barker presented a nutshell
account of “The State of the Environment” in the Dunes.
And, in a nutshell, the Dunes are under pressure. A lot of it.
Over the next 30 years, Barker said, some 170,000 new residents are
projected to move to the region, bringing 80,000 new jobs with them, but
that economic development will come with a price if stakeholders fail to
monitor and regulate it: sprawl and pollution.
“The pace of development can happen so fast that there isn’t time to think
what its impact on our quality of life might be,” Barker said. “Development
is serious business. It’s going to happen fast. Are we going to be ready for
it? We need to be better prepared.”
The Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission has gone a long way to
giving stakeholders the tools they need to protect the environment,
including especially its “green infrastructure network,” a body of GIS data
identifying and mapping sensitive sites. And, Barker said, Save the Dunes
has had some luck working with the owners of some of that property, for
instance, the Gary Chicago International Airport, whose planners--when
alerted by Save the Dunes--agreed to “change their pattern of development to
save sensitive dunes and swales” on airport property.
Another way to preserve those sensitive sites is simply to buy them. “But we
need money if you want land preserved,” Barker stated bluntly.
To prioritize which lands ought to be acquired, Barker added, Save the
Dunes, in conjunction with the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, the Nature
Conservancy, and the National Park Service, has established the Indiana
Coastal Land Conservation Alliance.
Compounding the problem--and contributing to sprawl--is legacy
contamination, Barker noted. Brown-field sites too expensive or complicated
to remediate will go un-redeveloped and businesses will just “sprawl further
into land we want to protect.”
Barker touched on a number of other vital environmental issues as well:
* Air quality: “The main message is that things are getting a lot better,”
Barker said. “We’ve come a long way.” Both BP and NIPSCO, as part of
settlements, are installing air-pollution prevention equipment at their
facilities, some of which is very nearly the best in the world. “That sets
the bar very high.”
* Watersheds: Watersheds are like “funnels” which drain entire areas into a
receiving water, which in the case of the Dunes ultimately means Lake
Michigan. Combined sewage overflows (CSOs)--when wastewater treatment plants
are forced to dump sewage into a watershed river or ditch during heavy rain
events--continue to affect beach health and tourism, although Barker
remarked that the Town of Chesterton is spending a great deal of money to
implement a plan to reduce CSOs.
* Septic systems: Possibly as high as 30 percent of the septic systems in
the Dunes have failed, partly because so many property owners neglect to
conduct regular pumping. A septic system needs to be pumped at least every
five years and preferably every three years, Barker said. Save the Dunes is
planning a public outreach campaign on the issue in Michigan City.
* Enbridge pipeline: Save the Dunes is taking a leading role in ensuring
that Indiana regulators closely monitor the Enbridge Inc. pipeline project,
which will traverse North Porter County from Liberty Township to Pine
Township. That pipeline will be carrying tar sands and, Barker said, the
Canadian firm has a less than stellar record when it comes to spills. In
particular, in July 2010, nearly 1 million gallons of tar sands were
accidentally released into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, affecting 20
miles of the waterway. Save the Dunes has calculated that the Enbridge line
will cross 80 different waterways in Northwest Indiana, all of them fewer
than 20 miles from Lake Michigan. Save the Dunes is asking Enbridge to
supply better monitoring equipment and to train local responders in the
event of a spill.
* Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Several issues concern Save the Dunes,
including the fragmentation of the park over three counties, federal budget
cuts, the threat of invasive species to the park’s incredible biodiversity,
and pollution. Perhaps what troubles Barker the most, however, is the apathy
or downright antipathy of many Dunes residents to the National Park Service,
which they perceive to be heavy-handed or dismissive.
Barker concluded her presentation by noting that 2016 will be a hallmark
year: the bicentennial of the State of Indiana, the centennial of the
National Park Service, and the 60th anniversary of the creation of the
National Lakeshore. Barker asked Chamber members to consider ways in the
Dunes can become a key part in which the celebration of these events.