Dunes Action is
calling for an immediate halt to the Pavilion banquet center project at the
Indiana Dunes State Park and is recommending that an investigation be done
into whether political ties influenced the lease with Pavilion Partners LLC
(PPLLC) by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).
The action comes in
the wake of an Associated Press story published in the Chesterton Tribune
Thursday. The AP reported that Chuck Williams, a regional chairman of the
Indiana Republican Party, not only got the contract without the normal
competitive bidding process, but was the developer who pitched the initial
idea. Williams, the AP reported, worked behind the scenes for over a year
with the administrations of two GOP governors, shaping and expanding the
“It’s time for this
lease to be canceled immediately, and for an outside party to take a serious
look at how the process took place,” said Desi Robertson, Co-founder of
Dunes Action. “This is probably only the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
Dunes Action said
emails obtained via open records requests have shown that members of what is
now PPLLC actually pitched the project to the IDNR well over a year before a
public request for proposals was issued. Both PPLLC principal Chuck
Williams, and Scott Virtue, the project architect, exchanged multiple emails
and met with IDNR staff in 2010 and early 2011, the group said.
PPLLC was awarded a
35 year lease with two possible 15 year extensions in February of this year
to renovate the pavilion building, construct restroom facilities and build a
banquet center at the Indiana Dunes State Park.
The group says it
is unclear if the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) was aware of the prior
contact between PPLLC and the department. The NRC was required to approve
the IDNR’s vendor selection to negotiate a contract, and did so by voice
vote at a commission meeting on May 15, 2012. Few details about the extent
of the project were recorded in the official meeting minutes.
“Dunes Action has
been pointing out the serious flaws in both the lease process and the
execution of this project since the beginning of April. Now it’s becoming
clear that political cronyism played a part in the deal. Pavilion Partners
had a competitive advantage that no other company could have overcome. . . .
Pavilion Partners had a huge head start, along with the extra advantage of
having met with the IDNR to discuss details before the official process
began,” said Robertson.
The Porter County
Chapter of the Izaak Walton League and Dunes Action have previously made a
case for stopping the project on the grounds that it violates federal
guidelines set out in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965. The
LWCF guidelines require approval from the National Park Service prior to the
start of the project.
Dunes Action! is a
volunteer, non-partisan coalition.