Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Conservationists and residents give input for proposed county stormwater board

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The creation of a Porter County Stormwater Management Board, intended to prevent erosion and provide flood control in the unincorporated areas, is underway as the Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 Tuesday on first reading to approve an ordinance establishing a board.

Before the vote, the public hearing portion attracted representatives from local 501(c)(3) preservation groups, including Herb Read of the Porter County Izaak Walton League and Peg Mohar of the Shirley Heinze Land Trust.

Read spoke when the Commissioners asked for comments supporting the ordinance and said that the Izaak Walton League “already does a lot of the things” mentioned in the ordinance with the help of private donations.

The board, according to the ordinance, would be established to fund and support operation, construction and maintenance of storm water facilities through a fee schedule that will be similar to those paid by residents in cities and towns.

The ordinance excludes fees for residents who live in the county’s various conservancy districts and already pay for stormwater management so that fees aren’t duplicated. The districts still may be able to work with the County through a memorandum of understanding, or MOU.

Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said that fees will be decided at a later time once the board is established. The goal is to create more uniform fees than the current system in which only properties that have a legal drain on them are assessed.

“This will make it a lot fairer to everyone,” Evans said.

Read asked the Commissioners to keep in mind that the League is providing a flood control mechanism to residents “for free, with no costs to the County.” The League works to maintain a mixture of woodlands, wetlands and agriculture on roughly 35 acres at two locations near County Line Road and is looking to acquire another 40 acres, Read said.

“You shouldn’t overlook the monetary value these private organizations and some individuals bring to the county,” Read said.

Mohar made similar comments, explaining how the Shirley Heinze Land Trust uses natural vegetation to improve water quality. She said she has studied “quite a bit” about stormwater fees and offered to give the Commissioners more input as they decide a fee structure.

Meanwhile, three others got up to speak, all from the Duneland area.

Jackson Township resident Donald Frame said he was in favor of seeing a new equitable fee structure put into place as he is one of the farmers whose property contains a legal drain. He also asked if the County’s current 75-foot easement requirements on drains could be dropped to give residents the ability to develop in those sections.

County Drainage Board member and Liberty Twp. resident Ed Gutt urged the Commissioners to include current members of the County Drainage Board as their expertise may be valuable when it comes to improving drainage while elected officials have other duties to attend to.

“There is a lot more to it than saying yes or no or whatever,” he said.

He also said municipalities should chip in to help the County with some of the drainage work and have some say. “Water has no boundaries.”

Liberty Twp. resident Ed Seykowski, representing the Woodville Foundation, said he would like to see every township in the county represented on the board since it is the unincorporated areas that are being affected.

A state statute referred to in the ordinance says that the board would be made up of the three county commissioners and the county surveyor, or designees.

However, the Commissioners did include in the ordinance an advisory council to the stormwater management board, to be made up of citizens who will report on drainage issues and proposed projects and give their recommendations to the board, Evans said.

Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said there could be places for conservation groups and township officials on the advisory council.

Evans said after the meeting there have been no final decisions made on the makeup of the stormwater management board and it may co-exist with the drainage board.

The stormwater management board will help “bring the County into the 21st century,” Evans said, finding better ways to alleviate drainage so that the County does not have to look to its county economic development income tax (CEDIT) or CCD funds as a source of revenue.

Blaney said that the County is mandated by law to address the requirements of the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit program which is administered by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The Commissioners will hold the second reading of the ordinance at their next meeting on Aug. 19.

 

 

Posted 8/6/2014