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
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.
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.”
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.
limitations might be more relevant than ‘We prefer there not to be alcohol
at Dunes State Park,’” Jensen said.
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
The Dangers of
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.
outlawed alcohol I don’t think it’s been missing,” Jeanne Hayes commented.
“And I don’t see how the park will be enhanced.”
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
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.”
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
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
* The days and
hours of alcohol service should be limited.
contributed a restriction of his own: “no loud music” should be heard from
inside the Pavilion or banquet center by anyone on the beach.
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
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
“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
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