Chesterton Tribune



Chesterton asks: Has Porter County punted on cleaning regulated ditches in towns?

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By custom and practice--and by virtue of holding the easements on all county-regulated drains--the Porter County Drainage Board has historically assumed responsibility for the cleaning and maintenance of regulated drains both in the unincorporated areas of the county and in incorporated municipalities, like the Town of Chesterton.

Several such county-regulated drains run through portions of incorporated Chesterton--the Pope O’Connor Ditch, Swanson Ditch, Gustafson Ditch, and Shooter Ditch--and in the past the county, or its contractors, have come into town to clear those ditches of debris and keep them flowing freely.

Most recently--some 10 years ago, to the best of Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg’s recollection--the county tended to the Pope O’Connor Ditch, where it runs through the Tanglewood and Westchester South subdivisions, in the months after the floods of September 2008.

Now, however, after receiving phone calls from folks concerned about the condition of the regulated ditches in their backyards, Schnadenberg is wondering whether the county has in fact punted. Whether, that is, the county has decided to let municipalities fend for themselves when it comes to cleaning and maintaining those ditches.

And if so, when was that decision made and why were affected municipalities not notified?

As Schnadenberg told the Stormwater Management Board at its meeting Monday night, “I keep getting phone calls from angry residents. This has been going on for months and other communities have the same issue.”

Schnadenberg further noted that he’s heard anecdotal reports that County Commissioners have been “telling people that the county has no responsibility for maintaining” regulated drains in incorporated municipalities. And when sometime ago John Nekus appeared before the County Stormwater Management Board to ask permission to build a road in the Pope O’Connor Ditch easement--as part of his Duneland Prairie planned unit development, recently rejected by the Town Council--members of that board expressed surprise that he was there at all.

The reason he was there: because the county holds the easements to all regulated drains, wherever they may be located.

Town Engineer Mark O’Dell put the matter baldly: the town simply doesn’t have the authority to go into the ditches, because the easements are the county’s. “They’re the holder of the easements,” he said. “We don’t have any jurisdiction over them.”

More practically, O’Dell added, the town doesn’t have the resources either, since the current stormwater fees assessed to property owners wouldn’t defray the cost of cleaning and maintenance.

“I mean, why would we even want those drains?” Schnadenberg said. “We don’t have the funding or the equipment to maintain them. The county does. We’d have to increase assessments.”

Members accordingly voted 3-0 to instruct Associate Town Attorney Connor Nolan to make inquiries at the county level and report back at their next meeting, Monday, May 20.

H.E.A. 1266

In other business, MS4 Operator Jennifer Gadzala reported that H.B. 1266 has been enacted into law, after the State Senate voted 62-27 on April 11 to approve an amended version the original House bill.

The new law--which will take effect on July 1--significantly reduces the authority which local MS4 departments have to regulate and enforce pollution control measures at building sites.

Among other things, the law cuts by at least half--from 28 to 14 days, in the case of larger projects; and to 10 days, in the case of smaller ones--the time an MS4 department has to review a builder’s Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP).

The law also attaches stipulations to the issuance of stop-work orders. An MS4 department may stop work after approving a builder’s SWPPP, but only after notifying the builder in writing of inadequacies in the erosion and sediment control measures, and only after the builder fails to resolve those inadequacies within 72 hours of receiving notification.

One ambiguity which the language of the law introduces, Gadzala added, is this one: it apparently allows a builder to submit a SWPPP before a construction plan, which makes no sense, she said, because the efficacy and efficiency of the former typically depends a great deal on specifics of the latter.

Brass tacks: the town’s SWPPP ordinance must be amended to reflect the new law. “We’ll have to look at what the language says and modify our ordinance accordingly,” Gadzala said.

For the record, the bill was originally introduced by State Rep. Doug Miller, R-Elkhart, who according to his official website is managing partner of Tailor Made Homes LLC and owner of Creekside Realty LLC and White Pines Properties LLC, is seated on the Board of Directors of the Builders Association of Elkhart County, and holds a life membership in the Indiana Builders Association.

Interlocal Agreement

Meanwhile, members voted unanimously to approve an interlocal agreement--pending legal review--between the Stormwater Utility and the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve.

Under that agreement, the Watershed Preserve will offer certain educational and public information outreach programs--mandated under the MS4 program--in return for which the Stormwater Utility will provide materials like water-testing kits.

Gadzala told the board that the Watershed Preserve does “great outreach.”

March in Review

In March the Stormwater Utility ran a surplus of $3,042 and in the year-to-date is running a surplus of $30,307.


Posted 4/16/2019




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