Chesterton Tribune

 

 

National Park Service says banquet center at beach would constitute public-to-private conversion

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The proposed banquet center at Indiana Dunes State Park beach would constitute a conversion of public recreational land under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act of 1965.

That’s the finding of Roger Knowlton, acting chief, recreation grants, at the National Park Service’s Midwest Regional Office, communicated in a Sept. 16 letter to Department of Natural Resources Director Cameron Clark.

Knowlton’s finding means that, before Pavilion Partners LLC may actually break ground on a banquet center, the DNR must identify and substitute--in place of the footprint removed from public recreational use at the Dunes State Park lakefront--some other property “determined by NPS to be of at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent usefulness and location,” as NPS puts it in the final LWCF rule published in the Federal Register in 1986.

Knowlton’s finding that a banquet center would constitute a non-compliant conversion of public recreational land is more in the way of being definitive than surprising. Well over a year ago--at a meeting with the DNR on June 5, 2015--NPS offered the preliminary view that “the construction of new banquet facilities not accessible to the public could not be approved as a public facility . . . and would result in a conversion,” as NPS Midwest Regional Director Cameron Sholly advised Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in a Dec. 4, 2015 letter.

Knowlton simply confirms that view in his Sept. 16 letter to Clark. “(B)ased on the information provided, we continue to believe that the banquet/conference center would trigger a conversion,” Knowlton states. “Although the facility could bring additional visitors to the park, it seems these visitors’ primary purpose for visiting Indiana Dunes would be to attend a function held in the facility, making outdoor recreation secondary to the facility event. Meanwhile, visitors who come to the park primarily to recreate will not have access to the facility. Taken together, we believe these circumstances would prevent the facility from being either secondary to or supportive of public outdoor recreation, as required by the LWCF Manual.”

Pavilion Partners’ specific plans for the Pavilion, on the other hand, would not constitute a conversion of public recreational land, Knowlton informed Clark in the Sept. 16 letter. “Currently, we believe that the following planned allowable uses (or facilities) will serve the site’s outdoor recreating public: lifeguard station, general store, ice cream shop, and different dining options (beachside, sit-down dining room, and roof-top lounge,” Knowlton stated.

Moreover, “NPS review and approval would not be required for the proposed improvements or changes to the building to accommodate these allowable uses because the building was constructed before the establishment . . . of the LWCF Act,” Knowlton adds.

One other finding in the Knowlton’s Sept. 16 letter: the DNR and Pavilion Partners will need to “adjust the lease to reflect the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) provisions and restrictions.”

The provisions cited by Knowlton, however--Chapter 8, Section D, of the 2008 LWCF Manual--appear mostly to be boilerplate items:

* The lease “should require the area be identified as publicly owned and operated as a public outdoor recreation facility in all signs, literature, and advertising, and is operated by a lessee/concessioner as identified in the public information to eliminate the perception the area is private.”

* The lease “should require all fees charged by the lessee/concessioner to the public must be competitive with similar private facilities.”

* The lease should “make clear compliance with all Civil Rights and accessibility legislation.”

Next

For the DNR, the significance of Knowlton’s Sept. 16 findings is that work can begin again on the rehabilitation and remodeling of the Pavilion proper. That work had been halted pending NPS’ review of the project’s compliance with LWCF provisions and restrictions.

“Pavilion Partners can now move forward with final design and renovations to the Pavilion with DNR approval,” as the DNR posted on the Indiana Dunes State Park website last week.

Meanwhile, the DNR said that it’s “currently examining next steps in (the) process” of converting public recreational land into private. DNR spokesman Phil Bloom told the Chesterton Tribune last week that the DNR has not yet identified suitable replacement land for that being removed from public recreational use at the Dunes State Park lakefront.

 

 

Posted 10/19/2016

 
 
 
 

 

 

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