Chesterton Tribune



There is money for Zona Sanctuary deferred maintenance, Park Board is told

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There is money to take care of deferred maintenance on the Zona Wildlife Sanctuary, estimated to cost about $15,000, according to Porter County Park Board Attorney David Hollenbeck.

Hollenbeck reported at the Park Board’s meeting last week that the County Auditor has about $15,000 still earmarked for the Zona Property, and by doing some work in-house, the Park Department should be able to use that to cover the cost of deferred maintenance such as clearing downed trees and improving trails and a bridge on the property.

Meanwhile, annual operating expenses for the Zona Sanctuary in Jackson Township are estimated at $18,000 a year, and the Porter County Board of Commissioners has committed to providing $10,000 from their budget annually, as previously reported. The Park Board is still working with the Commissioners to transfer ownership of the property, following recent concerns from members of the Zona family and former board members who managed the property in the past.

The Commissioners have owned the Zona property since it was donated to the County in the late 1990s, and they decided last year that the Park Department could manage it better, Commissioner Jim Biggs (R-North) previously told the Chesterton Tribune. Ownership has not been transferred yet, though Parks staff do empty a portable toilet, remove trash, and conduct light trail maintenance at the Sanctuary in the interim, Hollenbeck said. “I’ll report that is still somewhat a work in progress, but we are making progress in determining the best way to proceed,” he said.

The next step, Hollenbeck said, is for Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos to draft a letter to the County Council and ask for them to appropriate another $8,000 a year for the Sanctuary. “If that is successful, then I think the financial aspects of that problem are behind us,” Hollenbeck said. “I know the due diligence process doesn’t necessarily move as quickly as some people might like, but it’s important that we do it right. Being asked to take over 92 acres, and maintain it and bring it into the parks system, that shouldn’t be done without making sure we’ve crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s.”

Board member Drew Armstrong asked if the Park Board will own the property “free and clear” when all’s said and done. Hollenbeck said there is a provision in the deed for the property that the Zona family can cancel purveyance of the property if they’re dissatisfied with its management.

“That’s a little concerning, especially in light of some of the recent newspaper articles. It seems like they’re not happy with how things are being maintained,” Bryan Waisanen said.

“We’re helping out as much as we can, and we want to be in partnership with this group. I was very displeased with some of the recent articles that came out,” Waisanen added, and thanked Hollenbeck, Lenckos and Park Board President Craig Kenworthy for their due diligence and work on the process.

Hollenbeck advised the Board to seek funding first before worrying about the deed. “I think of us as the guy on the white horse,” he said. “We’re coming in to take responsibly for it and make this property into something everybody wants it to be.”

The Board approved Lenckos to seek the extra $8,000 in funding. Lenckos noted the Park Board’s second budget reading before the County Council is Sept. 29 starting at 5:30 p.m. and noted Park Board members can attend for support.

In other business, the Board approved Lenckos to transfer $5,000 from event expenses to training and education to offer staff training on an office-wide software update and give extra options to pursue other professional development. The Board also approved Lenckos partnering with Shirley Heinze Land Trust to conduct restoration with a focus on migratory bird habitat at Brincka-Cross Gardens for approximately $35,000. This investment would fulfill the Park Department’s required match for a Conservation Fund grant that it used to acquire land that nearly doubled the size of Brincka-Cross earlier this year, Hollenbeck said.


Posted 9/11/2020





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