Chesterton Tribune



Indiana Natural Resources Commission adopts rule to allow alcohol at State Park

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The Indiana Natural Resources Commission (NRC) has officially adopted a rule change under which the Department of Natural Resources may obtain a three-way permit from the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (IATC) for alcohol service at Dunes State Park.

The NRC did so at its meeting in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

The rule change is mostly a formality, as Indiana Code has permitted--since legislation was enacted in 2015--a private licensee to serve alcohol at the Pavilion at Dunes State Park. The change was prompted, however, by legislation enacted in 2016, under which not Pavilion Partners LLC, or any other private entity, but the DNR itself will be the holder of the three-way permit.

Specifically, the 2016 legislation forces IATC to issue the DNR a three-way permit on behalf of its state parks “if a proper application is made.” It also exempts the DNR from local Alcohol Beverage Commission investigation and hearing on the application, from quota restrictions, and from requirements regarding the character of the permit applicant and the location of the permit.

The text of the legislation was originally authored by State Sen. James Merritt, R-31st, who told the Chesterton Tribune at the time that his intent was “to make state parks competitive with their competition” in the restaurant industry. The language subsequently found its way into a different bill entirely, this one introduced by State Reps. Tom Dermody, R-20th, and Sean Eberhart, R-5th. Their bill initially would have required the IATC to grant a three-way to private alcohol retailers “for economic development purposes,” similarly free of local ABC oversight. But the House Public Policy Committee later scrapped their language altogether and replaced it with the text of Merritt’s bill.

Both bills led Dunes Action and the other opponents of Pavilion Partners’ plans at Dunes State Park to cry foul. They’d entered the New Year in 2016 in the not unreasonable belief that IATC’s previous rejection of the Pavilion Partner’s petition for a three-way had quashed those plans. Characterizing the two pieces of legislation as end-arounds and attacks on local will and prerogative, Dunes Action sent a number of people to Indianapolis to testify against the legislation.

The bill, as amended by the House Public Policy Committee, passed anyway, and Gov. Mike Pence duly put his signature to it, despite more than 10,000 signatures gathered against it by Dunes Action.

Once the legislation took effect, on July 1, 2016, the NRC went about the housekeeping business of changing its own administrative rule to reflect the new law, by amending it to authorize not a private entity to be the licensee at Dunes State Park but the DNR itself.

And--as a NRC rep told the nearly 200 irate people who gathered at a public hearing on the proposed rule change, in November 2016 at Woodland Park in Portage--the NRC wasn’t actually interested in hearing principled arguments against alcohol service per se at Dunes State Park: on the dangers of intoxicated swimmers on the beach or drivers in the parking lot. Nor was the NRC interested in the events which prompted the enactment of the new law and the process by which it was enacted, or in the politics and business ventures of Pavilion Partners principal Chuck Williams. The NRC was interested only, and exclusively, in the proposed rule change itself.

In any case, the NRC rep noted, the new law “is going to override the rule no matter what.”

That rule the NRC formally changed on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the Pavilion at Dunes State Park remains a gutted building. No construction work has been done at the site since September 2015, despite a ruling by the National Park Service in September 2016--five months ago--greenlighting Pavilion Partners to remodel the structure for the purposes of operating a restaurant in it. The DNR, for its part, has not yet announced what land it will acquire to replace the footprint at the beach to be occupied by the banquet center, pursuant to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965.

The NRC describes itself as an “autonomous board that addresses topics pertaining to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.” NRC members include the DNR director, the heads of three other state agencies (Environmental Management, Tourism Development, and Transportation), six citizens appointed by the governor on a bipartisan basis, the chair of the NRC’s advisory council, and the president of the Indiana Academy of Science.


Posted 1/18/2017




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