Chesterton Tribune

County to close roads in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; Tremont and Furnessville to remain open

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Porter County Commission-ers have officially reached an agreement with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to close a number of county roads within the boundaries of the national park.

Their unanimous decision Tuesday brought some good news for those who voiced opposition to the plan during the commissioners’ meeting last month. Both the county and the Lakeshore have agreed to keep open Furnessville Road, Tremont Road, Hadenfeldt Road (CR 150E), CR 50 East (North Main Street) and Veden Road (CR 200E) where a lot of residential traffic is seen.

County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said the county looked at the National Parks Service’s 1997 General Manage-ment Plan which named roads that could be acquired by the NPS once the area is vacated. The parks officially made the request for the road closures in January 2011 after all remaining residents moved out, but County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, was reluctant to accept the request because many still use some of the roadways for work or travel.

“The time has not come for the closing of these roads,” Evans said Tuesday.

A total of ten roads, road sections or alleys within these areas will however be blocked off permanently and turned over to the NPS. Those include the following: Pottawatomie Rd., CR 1450, the north leg of Hawleywood Rd., roads around Pottawatomie Vista, Parkwood Ave., Dunewood Ave., Arab Drive, Dunewood St., Oakwood St. and McBride Place.

A portion of road in the Pottawatomie Vista may also remain accessible to the public. Liberty Township resident Herb Read, who formerly lived in the National Lakeshore, requested the spot be spared to give visitors better viewing areas of the dunes there, especially those visitors with limited mobility.

There are parking areas nearby on Tremont Rd., Evans said, where visitors could park and still access the land rather easily. The decision on which road sections remain open will be the NPS’s judgment, he said.

Read and his wife Charlotte were two of the very few residents who showed up to hear the commissioners’ decision despite there being a standing room only crowd at the public hearing. Remonstrators during the hearing feared the measure would landlock 100 or so residents and preclude easy access to homes and businesses.

Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson said he has visited the roads and affirmed the NPS’s input that people have been using the areas for dumping and other activity. Those areas will now be closed off to motor vehicles and the agency is hoping to develop walking and horse riding trails in their place said Lakeshore Assistant Superintendent Garry Trayhnam, who was the only park official sitting in on the discussion.

Evans added a caveat to the bargain. For safety’s sake, speed limits on those roads will be posted at 20 or 25 miles per hour, specifically Furnessville Rd. which currently has a posted 30 mph limit. He asked the county highway department to set the new limits once they can render an opinion on what speed is appropriate.

Thompson said speed was a concern of the NPS because there are horse trails that cross over Furnessville Rd.

He also said he noticed drainage becoming a problem due to blockage caused by beaver dams. Evans directed the highway department along with the assistance of the county surveyor and drainage board to get the matter resolved.

County supports land grant for Shirley Heinze

In other business, the commissioners unanimously agreed to the county writing a letter of support towards an application for a land grant being sought by the non-profit Shirley Heinze Land Trust and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Thompson said Shirley Heinze associates approached him saying the application would need the support of a government entity.

The grant, which would come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, is for $387,000 with a local match of $116,000 from the applicant. As he gave his approval, Evans asked for assurance the county would not become the administrator or be responsible for financial obligations toward the application. He asked county attorney Betty Knight to draft the letter.

Thompson said if the grant is acquired, Shirley Heinze Land Trust will use the funds for a restoration project on its 43-acre Little Calumet River wetland preserve close to where Indian Boundary Rd. and Brummitt Rd. intersect. With the help of the Corps of Engineers, the agency will remove invasive species and revegetate the area.

ADA survey a ‘daunting’ task?

Meanwhile, Thompson informed the commissioners it would be best to get moving on a federally mandated provision for all public access areas of county government buildings to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Thompson said he and County Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, learned through the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) that according to the ADA the county must have self-evaluations of the exteriors and interiors of all buildings complete along with a transition plan and grievance procedures put in place by the end of this year.

If the county should fail to turn in a plan, it would lose its eligibility to receive funding from the Federal Highway Department, Thompson said.

The job could be “a real challenge,” Thompson said as the agency requires all structures to be in compliance – from counters at the county’s offices, to the jurors’ boxes at the courthouse, to voting booths at polling places.

“It’s a rather daunting task to complete by one year,” said Thompson.

Knight said some structures may be exempt in special case such as historic buildings like the Memorial Opera House.

The county does not have to worry about being completely ADA compliant by Dec. 31, Adams said, just a plan on how it will advance.

The commissioners agreed to Thompson’s request to send out a Request for Proposals for a consultant to begin the study.

“As much as I don’t like unfunded mandates, we better do something,” said Evans.

In other business:

• The commissioners appropriated $2,250 in county income tax money to replace a fence at the Porter Count Expo Center that was hit by a drunk driver. Expo Center Manager Brian Schafer said the new fence will have a rolling gate. The Expo put up $1,350 to cover insurance costs.

• The Evergreen Avenue/Porter County Bridge project over Willowcreek Road in Portage will begin construction on July 2 with completion expected by the end of October. A contract is expected to be awarded by June 19. The county expects to garner permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in the next few days.

• A base bid of $289,995 was awarded unanimously by the commissioners to Stanley Convergent Security Solutions for a new security system at the Juvenile Service Center.

 

Posted 5/2/2012