Chesterton Tribune



Indiana Dunes State Park beach project likely subject to federal rules

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The National Park Service (NPS) will not be pulling the plug on Pavilion Partners LLC’s plans to build a banquet facility next to the Pavilion at Indiana Dune State Park beach.

NPS will, however, order the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires agencies--according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website--to “integrate environmental values into their decision-making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions.”

In practice, that means agencies formulating policies subject to NEPA must prepare--following a typically lengthy review process--an environmental impact statement (EIS).

Just before deadline today, Jim Sweeney, president of the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, told the Chesterton Tribune that the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (LWCF) does in fact apply to the DNR’s lease agreement with Pavilion Partners, because Indiana Dunes State Park has been a beneficiary of LWCF funding; that the leased property in question--both the proposed site of the banquet facility but also the Pavilion itself--constitute “conversions” under the LWCF; and that as such the DNR is subject to NEPA.

That’s Sweeney’s summary of a conversation he had on Wednesday with Bob Anderson, supervisor for state and local assistance at NPS’ Midwest Region offices in Omaha, Neb.

Anderson told Sweeney that he’s been in discussion with two DNR officials--John Davis, deputy director of land management; and Bob Bronson, section chief for DNR Division of Outdoor Recreation--and that all three are in agreement: leasing the property in question to Pavilion Partners--that is, to a private entity--is a “conversion,” and both the “mitigation footprint and the replacement value” of that property must be calculated, so that the acreage lost may be replaced with “new land of equal or greater values and of similar use.”

Probably, Sweeney said, that would mean “undeveloped beach.”

In making that calculation, Sweeney added, DNR will have to consider other “negative impacts” related to the “loss of outdoor recreation” caused by the conversion. Those could include “noise” and “aesthetics” and possibly also the loss of dark sky, any or all of which “could be added to the value to be mitigated.”

But the real significance of Anderson’s finding is this: DNR will have to put both conversions--the lease of the banquet-facility property and that of the Pavilion--through a comprehensive NEPA review.

“Which will mean,” Sweeney told the Tribune, “back to square one with the planning process, including the consideration of alternatives.”

It also means “a lot more time and more money too,” he said.

Among other things, a NEPA review requires at several stages in the process public input and comment; also requires the DNR to consider actual alternatives to the construction of a banquet center; and requires finally a more exhaustive investigation of potential environmental impacts than the DNR has apparently conducted so far.

Sweeney did make one thing clear, though: NPS has no authority to shut down the project itself, unless and until the DNR refuses to comply with the LWCF’s provisions. Should the DNR indeed go through the whole NEPA review and meet all of its requirements, then “they will get their building on the beach.”



Posted 6/18/2015





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