Chesterton Tribune



Chamber hears State of the Environment

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Living in the Dunes is all about “bonding to the landscape.”

That’s how Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, expresses the abiding commitment of her organization and its supporters to the south shore of Lake Michigan.

On Wednesday, at a Fast Track Luncheon organized by the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce at the Hilton Garden Inn, Barker presented a nutshell account of “The State of the Environment” in the Dunes.

And, in a nutshell, the Dunes are under pressure. A lot of it.

Over the next 30 years, Barker said, some 170,000 new residents are projected to move to the region, bringing 80,000 new jobs with them, but that economic development will come with a price if stakeholders fail to monitor and regulate it: sprawl and pollution.

“The pace of development can happen so fast that there isn’t time to think what its impact on our quality of life might be,” Barker said. “Development is serious business. It’s going to happen fast. Are we going to be ready for it? We need to be better prepared.”

The Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission has gone a long way to giving stakeholders the tools they need to protect the environment, including especially its “green infrastructure network,” a body of GIS data identifying and mapping sensitive sites. And, Barker said, Save the Dunes has had some luck working with the owners of some of that property, for instance, the Gary Chicago International Airport, whose planners--when alerted by Save the Dunes--agreed to “change their pattern of development to save sensitive dunes and swales” on airport property.

Another way to preserve those sensitive sites is simply to buy them. “But we need money if you want land preserved,” Barker stated bluntly.

To prioritize which lands ought to be acquired, Barker added, Save the Dunes, in conjunction with the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Park Service, has established the Indiana Coastal Land Conservation Alliance.

Compounding the problem--and contributing to sprawl--is legacy contamination, Barker noted. Brown-field sites too expensive or complicated to remediate will go un-redeveloped and businesses will just “sprawl further into land we want to protect.”

Barker touched on a number of other vital environmental issues as well:

* Air quality: “The main message is that things are getting a lot better,” Barker said. “We’ve come a long way.” Both BP and NIPSCO, as part of settlements, are installing air-pollution prevention equipment at their facilities, some of which is very nearly the best in the world. “That sets the bar very high.”

* Watersheds: Watersheds are like “funnels” which drain entire areas into a receiving water, which in the case of the Dunes ultimately means Lake Michigan. Combined sewage overflows (CSOs)--when wastewater treatment plants are forced to dump sewage into a watershed river or ditch during heavy rain events--continue to affect beach health and tourism, although Barker remarked that the Town of Chesterton is spending a great deal of money to implement a plan to reduce CSOs.

* Septic systems: Possibly as high as 30 percent of the septic systems in the Dunes have failed, partly because so many property owners neglect to conduct regular pumping. A septic system needs to be pumped at least every five years and preferably every three years, Barker said. Save the Dunes is planning a public outreach campaign on the issue in Michigan City.

* Enbridge pipeline: Save the Dunes is taking a leading role in ensuring that Indiana regulators closely monitor the Enbridge Inc. pipeline project, which will traverse North Porter County from Liberty Township to Pine Township. That pipeline will be carrying tar sands and, Barker said, the Canadian firm has a less than stellar record when it comes to spills. In particular, in July 2010, nearly 1 million gallons of tar sands were accidentally released into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, affecting 20 miles of the waterway. Save the Dunes has calculated that the Enbridge line will cross 80 different waterways in Northwest Indiana, all of them fewer than 20 miles from Lake Michigan. Save the Dunes is asking Enbridge to supply better monitoring equipment and to train local responders in the event of a spill.

* Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Several issues concern Save the Dunes, including the fragmentation of the park over three counties, federal budget cuts, the threat of invasive species to the park’s incredible biodiversity, and pollution. Perhaps what troubles Barker the most, however, is the apathy or downright antipathy of many Dunes residents to the National Park Service, which they perceive to be heavy-handed or dismissive.

Barker concluded her presentation by noting that 2016 will be a hallmark year: the bicentennial of the State of Indiana, the centennial of the National Park Service, and the 60th anniversary of the creation of the National Lakeshore. Barker asked Chamber members to consider ways in the Dunes can become a key part in which the celebration of these events.



Posted 5/23/2013