Chesterton Tribune



Protest of privatized, politicized pavilion draws 200 to hearing on alcohol in Dunes State Park

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Upwards of 200 people appeared at a public hearing on Tuesday to express, in the strongest possible terms, their opposition to alcohol service at a remodeled Pavilion and proposed banquet center at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Over the course of the three-hour hearing 39 actually spoke, every one of them against alcohol service.

The hearing, held at Woodland Park in Portage, was convened by the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (NRC) specifically in connection with a proposed rule change in the Indiana Administrative Code (IAC). That change, as NRC representative Sandra Jensen explained it, would bring the rule currently governing alcohol service at Dunes State Park into compliance with the legislation enacted earlier this year which, on the one hand, authorizes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to apply to the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (IATC) for three-way permits on behalf of its state parks; and, on the other, requires IATC to grant such permits.

Yet, as Jensen suggested bluntly--after six folks had already remonstrated--the very narrowness of the NRC’s interest in the matter rendered many, if not most, of people’s comments irrelevant to the issue.

Because, Jensen said, the current IAC rule already permits alcohol service “on the licensed premises of a pavilion” at Dunes State Park, pursuant to earlier legislation enacted in 2015. The proposed rule change, accordingly, would simply reflect the new statute, under which not Pavilion Partners LLC would be the three-way licensee but the DNR itself.

“We’re not here to talk about the permit but about the rule proposal,” Jensen said.

So “what do we about” the new statute? someone asked from the audience.

“I can’t answer that question,” Jensen replied. “It’s beyond me.”

So “what are we commenting on? What are the parameters of the meeting?” someone else asked.

“I can’t offer anything with regard to that,” Jensen responded. “I understand and empathize. But I have absolutely nothing to offer in that respect.”

The upshot, however, as Jensen continued, is that the history of alcohol consumption at Dunes State Park, the potential dangers of alcohol near or on the beach, the events which prompted the enactment of the new legislation and the process by which it was enacted, and the politics and business ventures of Pavilion Partners principal Chuck Williams simply aren’t relevant to the decision to be made by the NRC: whether or not to adopt the proposed rule change.

In any case, Jensen added, the new statute “is going to override the rule no matter what.”

Only one sort of comment could conceivably be relevant to the NRC’s decision, Jensen did venture, namely, whether the NRC should place additional restrictions on alcohol service at Dunes State Park. As she noted, under the current rule alcohol service is already prohibited at any state park at a “swimming beach or pool,” a “shooting range,” and a “designated youth tent area.” But the NRC might be amenable to considering other restrictions.

“Additional limitations might be more relevant than ‘We prefer there not to be alcohol at Dunes State Park,’” Jensen said.

Nevertheless, the thrust of the evening, as the remaining 33 remonstrators spoke, was very much along the lines of “We prefer there not to be alcohol at Dunes State Park.”

The Dangers of Alcohol

Numerous remonstrators cited the previous problems which alcohol created at Dunes State Park, prior to its ban in 1989. Sue Wright, who lifeguarded at the beach in her youth, recollected that “it was getting out of hand” already in the Seventies. “There was a reason they disallowed alcohol. A place with little kids and swimming is no place to be inebriated.”

Herb Read recalled several incidents when he and his family were forced to flee the beach and Wilson Shelter when aggressively intoxicated visitors ruined get-togethers.

“Since they outlawed alcohol I don’t think it’s been missing,” Jeanne Hayes commented. “And I don’t see how the park will be enhanced.”

Several nurses spoke about alcohol’s tendency to impair judgment. A person can still be legally sober, with a blood alcohol content of .07 percent, and be “buzzed, relaxed, with lower inhibitions,” Ann Moodie said. “Is this what we want at the Dunes?”

“Alcohol and swimming do not mix,” Paula Wiese added, not to mention the fact that the children whose parents have been drinking at weddings and other events at the banquet center could be left unattended and neglected.

A number of people, including Jackson Township Board Member Mark Jaeger, argued that alcohol-related drownings at the beach would “pull” emergency services from surrounding communities. Porter County Council Member Sylvia Graham, D-at large, made much the same point, that responses to Dunes State Park by the Porter County Sheriff’s Police would put “an undue burden on the public.”

Tom Hornicke envisioned a “logistical nightmare”: a huge parking lot jammed with cars, tight space, and kids everywhere. “You’re going to see people injured. You’re going to see children die.”

Jim Nelson, citing a “gradual erosion in the sense of community,” spoke to the likely effect of alcohol on beach visitors who “are struggling with anger management,” given to “aggressive, reckless driving,” and participate in this nation’s “gun culture.” And, he added, “it doesn’t take two drinks to get some people over the edge.”


Pam Rearick, inspired by Jensen’s advice, did float the advisability of further restrictions on alcohol at Dunes State Park:

* The DNR should provide 24/7 security at Dunes State Park.

* The DNR should hire dedicated medical staff for the park.

* A Conservation Officer should be permanently on duty when alcohol is being served.

* Entrances and exits at the Pavilion and banquet center should be designed not to face the beach.

* The days and hours of alcohol service should be limited.

Jeff Cefali contributed a restriction of his own: “no loud music” should be heard from inside the Pavilion or banquet center by anyone on the beach.

Andrew Slager, though, who identified himself as a seasonal employee at Dunes State Park--and predicted that he would no longer be, after remonstrating on Tuesday--stated that, as matters now stand, “we haven’t the capacity to control” alcohol. “We had a drowning this summer at the park. I don’t know if he was drinking but I know his associates were.”

A few people, noting that the current IAC rule already bans alcohol at every swimming beach at every state park in Indiana, maintained that the Pavilion is in fact on the beach and that the banquet center will be too. “The question is, is the Pavilion on or off the beach?” Paul Mache asked. “The Pavilion is on the beach! Too bad, Pavilion Partners, you lose.”

“There’s sand under that sidewalk,” Herb Read noted. “I saw the sand before they poured the sidewalk.”

The Process

Norm Hellmers was one of a number of remonstrators who wants the NRC to know--to grasp clearly--that people are angry because of the way the statute in question was enacted, after the local ABC rejected Pavilion Partners’ permit application, after too IATC upheld that ruling. Some 10,000 people signed a petition opposing the legislation, he remarked. “How many signatures would it take for you to listen to the public will? You tell us and we’ll get them to you.”

“It’s a done deal but still 175 people showed up tonight to voice their frustration,” Duane Davison said. “Our rights were usurped.”

“The proposed rule would overrule good public policy,” Margaret Willis said. “Public safety should guide your decision.” Moreover, she suggested--saying that a “sweetheart deal” was the result of “play-to-pay politics”--”it’s safe to say that anyone still in favor of the proposal favors bad government.”

State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, asked folks “to be mindful of what brought us here”--“the expansion of privatizing public resources”--said that he is “most upset about the taking away of local control,” and lamented that any bill any legislator might author in the next session to “reverse” the current statue would “never be heard, never make it to committee, and would died a natural death,” because of the Republican super-majority. Moseley nevertheless pledged to attempt to insert an amendment of his own to someone else’s bill.

Sue Brennan, for her part, cited the NRC’s mission statement--to “provide leadership in the management of natural resources consistent with the DNR and General Assembly”--and urged the NRC to take that mission to heart.


NRC hearing officer Dawn Wilson expects the NRC to vote on the proposed rule change at its Jan. 17 meeting at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis.

(Charlotte Read did urge the NRC to hold that meeting instead in Northwest Indiana, as a more appropriate venue for the decision.)

Wilson added that written comments will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1. on the NRC’s website.


Posted 11/30/2016





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