If you hiked the
trails at the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve this week, you may have
noticed that the southernmost half-mile of the system has been closed and
chained and is now off limits to all foot and bike traffic.
That closure is
temporary but it will be fairly lengthy in duration--until sometime this
fall, or whenever Urschel Laboratories Inc. has completed construction of
the new four-lane bridge over Johnson Ditch and Coffee Creek.
For Katie Rizer,
executive director of the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy--the
not-for-profit charged with overseeing and maintaining the Preserve’s 157
acres--there is one absolutely essential point to be made about the bridge
And about Urschel
as well, for that matter.
It is this: the
Watershed Preserve remains inviolate. It’s not being deforested, dug up, or
paved over, either by Urschel or by any other party. Land which has been
developed at Coffee Creek Center, or is under development, or is available
for development, is all outside the 157-acre Watershed Preserve,
which will remain forever a preserve.
“Last summer, when
ground broke at the Urschel site, I started getting phone calls, e-mails,
‘Someone’s building in your preserve!’” Rizer told the Chesterton Tribune
on Tuesday. “‘No, we wouldn’t let someone do that,’ I would say.”
really understand what’s happening,” Rizer explained. “They think they’re
protecting our honor when they criticize economic development. When in fact
economic development is good for the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve.”
every commercial--and residential--property owner at Coffee Creek Center
pays a certain annual amount to the Coffee Creek Center Congress, roughly
equivalent to a POA. Commercial, not surprisingly, “pays a bigger chunk into
it” than residential, and the larger the commercial property the larger its
payment. Among other things, the Congress is responsible for the common
areas in the development. But in the Congress’ budget is a dedicated line
item funding the Watershed Conservancy, which in turn administers the
Rizer put the
Watershed Conservancy’s funding--that line item in the Congress’ budget--at
$265,000 per year, which she said is ample to cover the expense of tending
the Watershed Preserve’s trails, for instance, or pulling invasive plants.
That funding, moreover, is exclusively for the maintenance of those 157
acres and is not spent outside the Watershed Preserve.
But that amount
will only grow larger as there is more development in Coffee Creek Center.
Urschel will pay into the Congress itself, Rizer said, when it takes
possession of its property, probably late in the winter of 2015.
itself--to be built immediately south of the present Bridge No. 6--is
actually referenced in the original Watershed Preserve deed, when the Lake
Erie Lane Company presented the 157 acres (with an estimated value then of
$13.9 million) to the Watershed Conservancy. Because LEL wanted the trail
system to remain contiguous in perpetuity, it restricted the bridge easement
to an extremely narrow 100 feet.
And then LEL
stipulated that any bridge traversing Johnson Ditch and Coffee Creek must be
tall enough to allow foot and bike traffic to pass unimpeded
beneath it, along six-foot paths on either side of Coffee Creek.
Work clearing the
100-foot easement has now begun, Rizer said. To protect the public, the
Watershed Preserve trail has been closed immediately south of Bridge No. 5
on both the west and east sides of Coffee Creek.
Conservancy has “no say-so in how the bridge is actually constructed, aside
from the 100-foot easement and the height,” Rizer said. “But we have been
involved in discussions with the Urschel people, who’ve been very open to
our suggestions about orientation, for example.”
Rick Urschel, for his part, is particularly pleased with the bridge. “We are
really proud of that bridge,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of help from the
Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy and Lake Erie Land and the town. It’s
been a long hard winter but a productive one.”
The mission of the
Watershed Conservancy--administered by a seven-seat Board of Directors--is
to “identify, monitor, and enhance the remnant biodiversity of the Coffee
Creek Watershed while protecting recreational and educational experiences
for all,” Rizer noted.
Under the documents
establishing the Watershed Conservancy, the 157 acres in the Watershed
Preserve may not, under any circumstances, ever revert back to the
Lake Erie Land Company or to any other for-profit development outfit, Rizer
Watershed Conservancy be liquidated, for any reason, the acreage would
legally have to be transferred “to a like-minded not-for-profit,” Rizer
Rizer is looking
for a big year in the Watershed Preserve, which is one of this year’s
Rebuilding Together Duneland sites, where 300 trees are going to be planted
to replace some of the 1,800 lost to the emerald ash borer.
days are also on tap in 2014, devoted to such activities as invasive
control, water-quality monitoring, bird monitoring, and woodland cleanup.