Chesterton Tribune



Crowd turns out for open house on banquet center at Dunes State Park beach

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No! Among the dozens of people in attendance at the DNR Open House Monday who oppose the plan for new construction on the State Park Beach were (left to right) Mike Echterling, Jim Sweeney, Bill Iltzsche and Gary Brown, all of the Izaak Walton League, Stella Thompson, age 7, Desi Robertson, Alex Thompson and Luci Thompson, age 5. “This is the most closed door open forum I’ve ever seen,” said Brown, about the lack of question and answer opportunity. “It’s a joke.” (Tribune photo by Margaret L. Willis)




Here’s the first thing about the open house on Monday.

It was crowded, really crowded, inside the exhibit room where DNR and Pavilion Partners LLC staff were answering folks’ questions; in the corridor leading to the exhibit room; and in the main gallery of the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center.

The open-house format had the effect of splitting opponents and proponents alike of the project into separate cells, while the noise of a score of conversations had the effect of making it difficult to overhear staffers’ discussing the project with someone next to you or ahead of you in line.

One prominent Duneland politician--who asked not to be identified--expressed his anger at the format and told the Chesterton Tribune that a press-conference format would have done a better job of involving the public: all stakeholders in a single room, one question asked at a time, one answer given at a time, by this or that authoritative official, so that everyone would be working off the same page going forward.

Here’s the second thing. Very few of those who oppose the banquet center object either to the rehabilitation of the Pavilion or to the operation of a restaurant in the Pavilion.

And here’s the third thing. Although easily the majority of those in attendance on Monday were there to express their opposition to the project, many, many were not. Representatives of the local and regional business community and of the tourism industry, not surprisingly, helped to pack the Visitor Center.

But others just wanted a couple of questions answered. Pat Carlisle, who frequently appears before the Chesterton Town Council on matters of import to Duneland, was one of the latter. She told the Chesterton Tribune that she wanted to know, first and foremost, that the customers of the restaurant and banquet center will pay gate fees.

Carlisle was assured that such would be the case and she left happy, after telling the Tribune that she thinks the project is a good and valuable one.

Nor has everyone made up his or her mind. Porter County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, said he “really just went to get educated” and hasn’t decided “if I’m for or against” it. He added that he did see the plans “but can sort of understand why an open exchange did not occur, as it was a fairly hostile environment for anyone who supported it.”

Chesterton Town Council Member Emerson DeLaney, R-5th, for his part, was of two minds. “I am pleased that the Pavilion is getting fixed but I still have mixed emotions about the new addition,” he said.

Heather Ennis, president of the Northwest Indiana Forum, spoke on the other hand of a real need for the banquet facility. “We definitely have leakage,” she said, her term for the business lost by “people looking for lakefront venues and going elsewhere.” And “we definitely have a leakage of lakefront dining. This is our best resource and not being able to have a decent meal on the beach is a shame.”

What the people who expressed varying levels of support for the project did not, however, tend to discuss was the feeling among many that the DNR has deliberately excluded the public from the process.

It was on that ground chiefly that Save the Dunes came out this morning against the project.

And it is on that ground that opponents appear to hope to founder it. Jim Sweeney, president of the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, promised that his organization, joined by others, is taking a fine-tooth comb to the proposal process, to discover whether the DNR adhered to its own regulations, whether the DNR is holding itself to a looser standard than the one it applies to others seeking permitting.

Thus, for instance, Sweeney is interested in what environmental impact study or statement there might be with respect to the project, whether the DNR has studied the possible impact of the building on migrating bird populations, whether it has a plan for disposing of sewage. “I understand they don’t have the capacity for their current biosolids,” he said.

“We’re pretty confident that a project of this scope would require public comment,” Sweeney added. “But if that doesn’t’ work, we’ll be making sure that the banquet center is the epitome of environmentally sensitive building.”

Outside the Visitor Center, Dr. Desi Robertson was inviting attendees to sign her petition calling on the DNR to cancel plans for the banquet center. “Most people are in favor of renovating the Pavilion,” she said. “It’s the additional monstrosity people didn’t know about.”

This morning Robertson told the Tribune that 98 people to date have signed the petition, which is unaffiliated with any formal organization.

Those wishing to comment further on the project may do so by e-mailing the DNR at

Those questions, comments, and the DNR’s responses will be periodically combined and posted on the Dunes State Park webpage at



Posted 4/7/2015




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