Chesterton Tribune



DNR waiting for final dunes pavilion banquet center plans to make LWCF 'land substitution'

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What exactly does it mean to say--as Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) said in a statement released on Thursday, Dec. 10--that a banquet center at Indiana Dunes State Park beach would constitute under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF) of 1968 a “non-compliant use” of public land which would require on the Department of Natural Resources’ part a “substitution of other recreation properties”?

It means precisely this and no more: that in order to proceed with the Pavilion project, DNR will have to acquire a piece of property in all respects equivalent to the land being “converted” to private use at Dunes State Park beach and then dedicate that new acquisition to public use.

It doesn’t mean that the Pavilion project is dead. It doesn’t mean that the National Park Service--which administers the LWCF--has intervened to stop the project or even has the authority to stop it. And it doesn’t mean either--as DNR Director of Communications Phil Bloom told the Chesterton Tribune on Monday--that DNR was unaware of the LWCF mandates when it entered into the lease agreement with Pavilion Partners LLC.

“We’ve known about the LWCF pretty much from the outset,” Bloom said. ”We’ve had regular conversations with the National Park Service about where this is going.”

A non-compliant use, Bloom noted--such as a banquet center--is not an illegal use but rather one which triggers the substitution requirement under LWCF. “You can take public land and put it to private use,” he said. “And we know that anything taken out of public use would constitute a conversion which would necessitate substitution.”

“We’ve used LWCF grants for a number of projects at Indiana Dunes State Park that didn’t constitute a conversion, like the Nature Center,” Bloom added.

At this point, though, DNR can’t make a proffer of a suitable substitution to NPS because Pavilion Partners LLC hasn’t yet submitted final plans for the banquet center. “Until Pavilion Partners’ plans are finalized, we won’t know the scope of replacement or reparation,” Bloom said. “When the plans are completed, the National Park Service will be giving us a guidance. ‘You need to do this.’ And then the DNR will make an offer for NPS to approve.”

Whatever the eventual substitution, it must be of land “of equal or greater monetary value,” Bloom explained. That is, the LWCF will require DNR to acquire a piece of property whose fair-market value is no less than that of the one on the beach being converted to private use. “Obviously,” Bloom said, “the square footage of lakeshore property would equate to quite a bit more than land in other places. But we don’t know what at this point.”


Posted 12/15/2015




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