Chesterton Tribune



Group: NPS finds Dunes State Park banquet center noncompliant use of federally regulated public land

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For a response to this story see: Pavilion Partners respond to PEER press statement about Indiana DNR obligations to National Park Service


Pavilion Partners LLC’s construction of a banquet facility at the Indiana Dunes State Park beach would be an illegal conversion of property whose proper uses are regulated under the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF) of 1968.

That’s the finding of the National Park Service (NPS), as announced today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In June, NPS found that the LWCF--under which conversions of public lands for uses other than public outdoor recreation must be approved by NPS --does apply to the LLC’s lease agreement with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources because Indiana Dunes State Park has been the recipient of LWCF funding. That meant, at the time, that the DNR was subject to the National Environmental Policy Act and would have to prepare an environmental impact statement after a review of the project in its totality was conducted.

Now, however--in a Dec. 4 letter to PEER, NPS Midwest Regional Director Cameron Sholly reported that NPS would be unable to approve “several of the prospective uses” to which Pavilion Partners wants to put the land and that those uses would be “non-compliant” and therefore “constitute conversion.”

“Although weddings, wedding receptions, and banquets can be conducted outdoors, they are not generally categorized as contributing to the outdoor recreation experience,” PEER quoted from Sholly’s letter. And similarly “the construction of new banquet facilities not accessible to the public could not be approved.”

NPS does not actually have the legal authority to halt non-compliant conversion of LWCF-regulated lands, PEER said today, but should the LLC’s project continue there would have to be “the substitution of other recreation properties of at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location,” PEER said.

The problem for DNR, PEER continued: “Given the lakeshore setting, it is not clear that the state could create equivalent value for a conversion or from what funding source.”

“This project appears to be an illegal conversion of an investment in public outdoor recreation into a commercial profit center,” PEER senior counsel Paula Dinerstein said.

“Compounding the confusion is the state agency’s lack of forthrightness about what exactly it is approving to be built and where.”

“The promise that this project will cost the state and its taxpayers nothing now seems illusory,” Dinerstein added. “These are irreplaceable recreational crown jewels that should be polished, not pawned.”



Posted 12/10/2015




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