Chesterton Tribune



Indiana Dunes State Park seeks IDEM permit to realign Dunes Creek

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Indiana Dunes State Park (IDSP) is applying to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for a permit to “mechanically straighten” Dunes Creek, after it began meandering significantly to the west over the winter.

The application--technically “for authorization to discharge dredged or fill material to isolated wetlands and/or waters of the state”--also seeks to return “clean wind-blown sand” from the asphalted “hard-surface” parking lot to the beach.

The application is dated Feb. 4 and was submitted by IDSP Property Manager Brandt Baughman.

Channel Realignment

Baughman is specifically asking permission to dredge, by “mechanical means,” a maximum of 500 cubic yards of sand from the beach, to create--from the point of the meander north--a new outlet channel for Dunes Creek to flow into Lake Michigan. That channel would be 170 feet in length, 30 feet in width, and three feet in depth.

The dredged sand, in turn, would be used for beach nourishment and “sidecast” into an area eight feet in length and 100 feet in width, with approximately 90 percent of it going above the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) of Lake Michigan.

The dredging would be done on as-needed basis, usually two to three times annually but “up to five or six times per year in certain instances,” according to the application.

“We understand that it is often beneficial for a creek to meander but in extreme cases (such as now--the stream meanders westward for nearly several hundred feet and is approaching the wall in front of the historic Pavilion), public safety and property operations suffer,” Baughman writes in the application.

Baughman notes in particular that the creek’s current meander separates the lifeguard stands from the lake, “impeding access for water rescue.” More: meandering can quintuple the creek’s length, making it difficult for lifeguards to enforce the rule against swimming or playing in Dunes Creek, established “due to E. coli concerns.”

Baughman notes as well that too far a meander to the east or west vastly complicates beach operations, as the creek under normal conditions “naturally divides our beach into two halves (east and west) when it runs straight to the lake.” The halving of the beach has this advantage: on days when E. coli exceedences occur, an easterly outflow from Dunes Creek typically allows IDSP to keep the west half of the beach open to swimming; while a westerly outflow allows it to keep the east half open.

“When,” however, “the stream has meandered far to the east, for example, it effectively eliminates the option of keeping a portion of the beach open because 90 percent of the swimming beach is then west of the outlet,” Baughman states.

Of the dredging, he adds, “No new material is being added nor is any being removed. We propose simply to cut a straight channel across the sand beach to improve visitor safety and access. Normal wind activity will re-distribute beach sand outside the proposed sidecast area.”

Parking Lot Sand

IDSP is also seeking to remove approximately 25,000 cubic yards of “clean wind-blown sand” from the parking lot and “discharge a small portion of that material, for use as beach nourishment” into an area eight feet in length and 800 feet in width.

Of that material, around 90 percent would be discharged above the OHWM.

This work would be done on an annual or as-needed basis, “up to the 25,000 cubic yards per year limit.”

“Large amounts” of sand, “blown by north winds,” have the effect not only of clogging the parking lots and rendering them inaccessible or unusable but also of reducing the volume of sand on the beach itself, Baughman observes. “Generally, this occurs in earnest only one time per year, which is in the spring after winter winds have filled the lots with sand. However, periodic maintenance (up to 10 times per year) occurs year-round to capture and return smaller amounts of sand as weather events dictate the need.”

“No trash, debris, or foreign material is returned to the beach,” Baughman states.

On the Subject of Meandering

In fact, Baughman told the Chesterton Tribune on Friday, Dunes Creek routinely meanders and has always meandered. “This is something that has occurred, and has been managed, for many, many years,” he said. “Some years it drifts far to the east. Other years, like this one, it drifts to the west. However, in my 10 years here, I’ve never seen the bend occur this far up the beach. Usually it happens closer to the lake.”

“This has always happened, is nothing new, and has nothing to do with any other project that is going on at the park,” Baughman added. “However, it was less noticeable prior to 2011 because the constructed concrete wing walls that were removed during the Dunes Creek daylighting project reached much farther to the north than the existing layout, allowing less time and space for meanders on the beach to occur, though they did still occur. I think most people would agree that a naturalized creek on the beach is preferable to a concrete chute.”

Meanders typically form under two conditions, Baughman noted. Sometimes--“during a low-flow time for the creek”--a strong north wind will blow enough sand into the mouth of Dunes Creek to close it. Eventually the normal volume of flow will resume, or else “the back-pressure builds up,” and the obstruction is “blown out” like a champagne cork. But the blow-out “doesn’t necessarily happen in a manner that take the creek straight out to the lake.”

Dunes Creek can also begin to meander when, over an extended period of time, a prevailing east or west wind causes it to drift one way or the other, Baughman said.


Posted 2/22/2016





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