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
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.
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
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.
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
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.