Chesterton Tribune


Dunes Acres group says NPS is violating temporary Cowles Bog accord

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The Coalition to Protect Cowles Bog is asking a federal judge to suspend all tree-cutting at Cowles Bog, in a motion which alleges that the National Park Service (NPS) violated a temporary accord reached earlier this year by contracting with NIPSCO to remove trees from park land.

The Coalition filed its motion Friday.

At issue is the so-called “stipulation area,” the easternmost strip of the project area, immediately west of Mineral Springs Road, where NPS agreed in January to forbear from cutting any trees without providing the Coalition and the court 14 days’ notice. In exchange for NPS’ agreement to that stipulation, the Coalition withdrew its petition for a preliminary injunction.

In it most recent filing, however, the Coalition maintains that NPS has contracted with NIPSCO to “remove trees and sub-canopy” from one and a half acres of park lands, property which the Coalition says is part of the stipulation area.

According to the terms of contract between NPS and NIPSCO, NIPSCO was granted permission to perform “normal and customary maintenance,” but the Coalition is arguing that in fact that maintenance “is a back-door maneuver on the part of (NPS) to cut additional trees.”

The Coalition also says that NPS admitted cutting two hazard trees in the stipulated area, although the Coalition, when finally allowed to see the places from which the two trees were removed, contends that the trees neither were dead nor posed a hazard.

In any case, the Coalition “suspect(s) that additional trees may have been cut in the stipulation area but (has) been denied permission to measure the stipulation area to confirm.”

Work on what NPS has termed the “restoration” of 15 acres of Cowles Bog began soon after NPS issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” on Nov. 13, 2012. NPS has said that it intends to restore the bog to the condition in which it appeared to groundbreaking Henry Cowles when he studied the site early in the 20th century. That work includes the removal of tree cover and understory vegetation, to which numerous Dunes Acres residents objected during the public-comment period.

On Dec. 11, the Coalition filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.

On Dec. 12, a U.S. District judge denied the motion on procedural grounds.

The Coalition amended the complaint in a filing on Dec. 28. That filing seeks a declaration that NPS’ actions are “in excess of statutory authority, arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

Among other things, the Coalition alleges that NPS, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, suppressed research, “thus depriving the public and decision makers of critical information”; utilized “inaccurate and misleading information within their (Environmental Assessment) which makes that document and relating findings and decisions invalid”; and suppressed public comments which “conflicted” with their plan.”

NPS denies those allegations.



Posted 3/26/2013