Chesterton Tribune

INDU planning process begins for Porter Beach improvements

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Part-time Porter Beach resident Brenda McGillen wanted to know exactly what is the proposal approximately 40 people assembled Thursday were supposed to be commenting on.

According to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore deputy superintendent Gary Traynham, “Right now there are no real plans.”

There are goals, objectives and draft issues on how best to address current problems at INDU’s property east of Wabash Avenue at Porter Beach, said contracted environmental planner Michael Duwe, but beyond that the planning process has just begun.

Draft alternatives could be available for public comment this fall.

Duwe encouraged audience members to participate. “I know very little about the site; you folks know a lot about the site.”

June 28, 2011 INDU superintendent Costa Dillon told the former Porter Town Council the park wants to develop a new beachside picnic area for group/individual use, and that some engineering changes may need to take place at the town parking lot to ensure accessibility to the picnic area although the town would control what happens at its own lot, which has about 30 spaces.

While the former Town Council pledged its cooperation, the current council publicly has not done the same. Three Porter council members attended Thursday’s meeting at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center.

According to INDU, the previous council asked that its planned improvements include provisions for food service/concessions, but the National Park Service is neutral in this matter and will defer to the town’s interests.

Some last night voiced concern that INDU’s Porter Beach property is being over-developed as evidenced by its own draft objective to create a “showcase” destination there. INDU’s Kemil Beach in LaPorte County was suggested as a better location.

“Everything is draft until the plan’s done,” said Duwe.

Richard Cowsert said the more Porter Beach facilities are improved, the more people will be drawn to them.

Traynham later said although a picnic shelter’s been discussed, adding more parking hasn’t; the goal is to provide a better experience for visitors who are coming to the site already. INDU’s parking areas hold about 70 vehicles.

In brief preliminary remarks, Traynham said of the current INDU Porter Beach venue, which includes a bathhouse with restrooms, “I don’t think there’s anyone that would say this is an ideal situation right now.” Unchecked, “They’re impacts that if you continue will destroy what we have.”

Cited were inadequate vehicle and pedestrian circulation; lack of accessibility for the handicapped; and the need to address erosion and sand build-up, improve access for emergency services to the beach and adjacent homes, and better manage parking at INDU’s two lots.

The planned improvements aren’t just for park visitors, said Traynham; they’ll help ease congestion for Porter Beach residents, too.

Resident Jim Morsch asked if an environmental impact statement will be prepared prior to INDU construction. Traynham said what’s being proposed now doesn’t rise to that level but an environmental assessment will be performed.

Duwe said Porter Beach is one area of the park that has not been inventoried for wildlife and vegetation so it will be this summer.

Susan Brandstetter said INDU only owns 200 lineal feet of beach at Porter Beach. Traynham said INDU may have to go farther south with a solution for its planned improvements.

Comments during a later one-on-one meeting with INDU staff and consultants ranged from visitors leave too much trash, to why not give INDU’s 200 feet of beach to the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Traynham replied, “Until Congress tells us to give it to somebody else, we can’t give it to anyone.”

Duwe, who lives near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, told the Chesterton Tribune, “Sometimes, when you’re not from here, it helps. Personally, I’m wide open. I like to see the process work and you come out with the best alternative, whatever that might be.”

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Posted 6/29/2012