The following is
a Chesterton Tribune Editorial
this year the Indiana Department of Natural Resources revealed it was on the
verge of allowing construction of a private conference center at the Dunes
State Park beach.
center would be privately developed on public land under a lease lasting up
to 65 years.
were first introduced to this philosophy by former governor Mitch Daniels,
who leased the Indiana Toll Road to a private firm. That lease was rightly
criticized for selling the birthright of Indiana’s children in exchange for
a slush fund to enhance Daniel’s reputation and fund I-69 in southern
The DNR plan for
the Indiana Dunes, like the Toll Road lease, will lock up a public asset for
generations. Unlike the Toll Road lease, the public will get little in the
way of financial benefit in return with the guaranteed rental payments
amounting to little more than the rent on a typical Hoosier home.
Proposals for a
restaurant, hotel or conference center in the Dunes State Park are nothing
new. Plans dating back to the 1980s have sparked widespread opposition.
Opponents fear loss of public parking, restrictions on beach access, night
time light pollution, developmental sprawl into nearby dunes and
foot-in-the-door expansion to a casino. The latest plan adds the threat of
an eventual marina.
The DNR has a
contradictory history on parking at the Dunes. In the 1960s the DNR paved
over a blowout and inland dunes to build parking lots west of the pavilion,
prompting environmentalists to fight for creation of the Indiana Dunes State
Park Nature Preserve as a defense against future rapacious park managers.
Most recently the new gatehouse and day-lighting of Dunes Creek have
actually cut parking while the 4th of July events have overwhelmed the
remaining lots. The conference center plan adds to the burden on lots
already overwhelmed on hot summer weekends.
In 2006 the hotel
plan died and, over time, a compromise emerged to convert the existing
pavilion into a full-scale restaurant without expanding the footprint of the
reluctantly accepted the likelihood of restrictied parking in exchange for
ending the threat of a hotel at the beach.
The DNR began
looking for firms to remodel and operate a restaurant in the existing
pavilion building. In 2011 DNR officials issued a Request for Proposals
(RFP) for a private firm to remodel the pavilion and operate a restaurant.
The RFP sparked
In 2012 friendly
legislators were found to push through an ill-advised law to allow alcohol
sales in the pavilion at the beach.