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Porter split vote nixes funds for trolley/museum feasibility study

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By PAULENE POPARAD

The Porter Town Council voted down a $4,300 request to help determine whether historic South Shore passenger cars could be used for an operating tourism trolley or as part of a museum display, perhaps in Porter itself.

Following Tuesday’s vote, project promoter Richard Riley of the South Shore Line Heritage Foundation commented, "We’ll raise the money somehow.”

Porter’s $4,300 was the last money needed for a planned $19,500 feasibility study for the project.

Council members Greg Stinson and Elka Nelson each said they will make a personal donation with their own money, but not the town’s.

They and councilman Rob Pomeroy voted no on member David Wodrich’s motion to approve donating $4,300 from the town’s CEDIT fund. Wodrich and member Jeannine Virtue voted yes.

Virtue asked why the council doesn’t even question its annual $3,000 donation to the Fireworks on the Lakefront event when the train study could have more potential for longer-lasting benefits.

Nelson said the fireworks donation may need to be reconsidered in light of increasingly tight town finances. She noted Porter could reconsider its trolley/museum participation, like helping acquire easements, when and if plans are farther along.

Pomeroy said the fireworks are entertainment for town residents, and at this point a feasibility study would be just a piece of paper. “There are no guarantees with this thing.” If the project is so worthwhile, he challenged promoters to pursue fundraising like the Porter Park Department has had to do.

Wodrich said the study might build on tourism for the future. “It’s worth taking the risk to generate more money for the whole of Duneland.”

Nelson said she’s very much in favor of the project but Porter’s finances don’t permit a donation, especially when department heads are being told to cut their budgets and the town has infrastructure needs.

Porter share unfair?

The Porter County Board of Commissioners and the Town of Chesterton both have committed $4,300 to help fund the $19,500 study and Indiana Dunes Tourism has pledged $6,500.

Pomeroy said if the 2010 census populations of Porter and Chesterton are compared to that of Porter County without the two towns, Porter households are being asked to pay $2.38 each while Chesterton’s are $0.86 each and Porter County’s $0.06.

Riley and Indiana Dunes Tourism executive director Lorelei Weimer requested a $4,300 Porter donation at the council’s July 8 meeting but asked that a decision be postponed until classic train collector Bob Harris, a former Porter resident, could be present last night to answer questions about the inventory of passenger cars, track and parts he would donate for the trolley/museum.

Harris displayed photos of his rail cars including a 1908 wooden South Shore car now being restored and a steel passenger car like those currently being operated in East Troy, WI.

Harris asked why East Troy, a town of 4,300 people, can operate an electric railroad using vintage South Shore cars when Duneland --- where the electric Chicago-to-South Bend interurban began and still runs --- can’t.

The 10-mile scenic East Troy trip, which includes dining cars and private rentals, travels through southeastern Wisconsin and is 20 minutes from Lake Geneva.

Riley cites enthusiasm

Riley referred to letters of support he had provided the Porter council showing agencies and groups that back the study. Nelson said Porter has indicated its support by letter before and would do so again short of a monetary donation.

Riley referred to the feasibility study as a hurdle to overcome that will open doors to secure future funding. “I know ($4,300) is a lot when you look at your budget problems but I ask you to find a way.”

He also said those involved understand challenges are ahead to accomplishing their goal, but they’re willing to explore the options.

Posted 7/23/2014