Chesterton Tribune



Izaak Walton League asks NPS to shut down Pavilion project, says DNR violating federal law

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The Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s lease agreement with Pavilion Partners LLC--under which the latter will build a 30,000-square foot banquet facility on state park land--is clearly in violation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF) of 1965.

And for that reason, must be rendered null and void.

That’s the position of the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, which in a May 29 letter to the National Park Service’s regional director in Omaha, Neb., specifically urges NPS to intervene in the project.

At issue, Chapter President Jim Sweeney told the Chesterton Tribune just before deadline today, are LWCF regulations governing the use of property which has benefited from LWCF grants. That property includes Indiana Dunes State Park, the whole of which, he said, is encumbered by LWCF.

The problem: LWCF’s State Assistance Program Manual includes extensive language on the “conversion” of property either acquired or developed with LWCF assistance to uses other than “public outdoor recreation.”

A “local sponsor” like the DNR may seek to convert such property by leasing it to a private entity under a concession agreement, but only with the understanding that the private entity would use it to “provide a public outdoor recreation opportunity,” according to the State Assistance Program Manual.

In fact, Sweeney states in the letter, the property in question--a “prime site” immediately east of the Pavilion and south of the beach--would be converted to a “private indoor non-recreational use,” that is, to a banquet facility.

But in other ways too, Sweeney states, the DNR has violated LWCF by entering into the lease agreement with Pavilion Partners. That agreement, for instance, does not explicitly indicate--as LWCF requires it to do--that the “leased/concessioned area is to be operated by the lessee/concessioner for public outdoor recreation purposes in compliance with provisions of” LWCF.

“Such compliance was never intended by the IDNR or the lessee private developer, which repeatedly acknowledged in its accepted Proposal . . . that it could not proceed with the rehabilitation of the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion unless it could also construct the completely private banquet and conference center ‘addition’ to the Pavilion in order to enhance the profitability of the lease,” Sweeney states.

LWCF also requires local sponsors to secure NPS permission before undertaking a conversion and, actually, to “consult early” with the state LWCF manager “when a conversion is under consideration.”

Sweeney’s take on that: “In view of the developer’s insistence that there would be no rehabilitation of the Pavilion without the ‘addition’ and the IDNR’s insistence to the public that the project is a combined one that necessarily includes the ‘addition’ and is now a ‘done deal,’ there can be no doubt that there is ‘ongoing conversion activity that has not been approved’ by the National Park Service.”

Sweeney, “accordingly,” asks NPS Regional Director Cameron Sholly to “immediately instruct the State Liaison Officer to instruct the IDNR to ‘discontinue the unauthorized conversion activities.’”

LWCF was enacted in 1965 to provide money to state and local governments for the purchase of land, water, and wetlands “for the benefit of all Americans,” according to the U.S. Forest Service’s website. Funds for those purchases come chiefly from the fees paid by companies for offshore gas and oil drilling.




Posted 6/1/2015




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