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15 spoke at House hearing on DNR alcohol bill

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Fifteen people with an interest in HB 1247 testified before the Indiana House’s Public Policy Committee on Wednesday, one day before the committee unanimously passed the bill and sent it to the floor.

Of those, five witnesses spoke against the bill: Norm Hellmers of Dunes Action; Eric Schlene, a former resident of Jackson Township; Jim Sweeney, president of the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America; Larry Silvestri, also of Dunes Action; and Bowden Quinn of the Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The other 10 witnesses spoke in favor of the bill: Dewey Pearman of the Construction Advancement Foundation of Northwest Indiana; Pete Rimsans of the Indiana State Building and Construction Trades Council; Todd Vandermyde of Operating Engineers Local 150; Heather Ennis of the Northwest Indiana Forum; Matt Whetstone of the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission; Mark Wasky of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation; Mark Webb, an Indianapolis attorney who specializes in alcohol permitting; Mark Shublak of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau; Cameron Clark, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources; and Melissa Coxey, representing Pavilion Partners.

Prior to the testimony, the bill’s author, State Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-57th, took a few moments to explain the bill, which he said “would truly allow more options for the state and (DNR) to expand the amenities and offerings at our state parks.” He noted that the DNR and not any private alcohol retailer would be the permittee, and he said--in response to a query by State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, who expressed a concern about the possible mixing of minors and alcohol at the beach--that the DNR would have to follow the laws and regulations already in place with respect to alcohol.

“We’re not bypassing those rules,” Eberhart said.

State Rep. Philip GiaQuinta, R-80th, for his part, wanted to be sure of one thing: there would be no local ABC review and no ATC review of a DNR permit application, “that is correct?”

That is correct, Eberhart said. Because the DNR is a state agency, “we’re looking at a little different animal.”

But what input would there be from local residents? GiaQuinta pressed.

“Most of the state parks are pretty expansive,” Eberhart said in response. “”There no real close neighbors I know of.”

For much of the session, testimony alternated between those in opposition to HB 1247 and those in favor of it.

Hellmers

Hellmers made a number of points in his testimony. Among them: that Indiana Dunes State Park beach, “at the shore of dangerous Lake Michigan,” is not the right place for alcohol; that alcohol isn’t needed to make a business successful there; and that “our state parks aren’t for economic development,” that “we don’t want to build things in a state park simply to attract people or make more money for the DNR.”

Hellmers also urged the committee not to vote until members had answers to these questions:

* Where did the idea for the bill come from?

* Who’s behind it?

* Who drafted it?

* Why is it needed?

* What problem does it solve?

* Was it requested by one person?

* Who benefits from it?

* Is it desired by the public?

* Why is the “high and fine reputation” requirement eliminated?

And, Hellmers said, It “strains credulity” to suggest the bill hadn’t been written specifically as a remedy for the failure of Pavilion Partners LLC, after going through the regular channels, to obtain an alcohol permit.

Pearman

Pearman, after briefly voicing his support of HB 1247 as an economic-development catalyst, turned his attention to a different issue

“I have heard comments that border on casting aspersions on the person or persons who may have thought of this idea using their constitutional right to petition government,” Pearman said. “That goes on in this building all day, every day. Citizens in Indiana have the right to approach the legislative branch o the executive branch with their ideas, thoughts, questions, or comments.”

“And I think its wrong for people to criticize those who exercise those rights,” Pearman added.

Schlene

Schlene called HB 1247 “a real breakdown in the way politics have interfered with the process.”

He also called the ATC “a relief valve,” “a place where the voice of the people could be heard.”

Schlene then spoke about how a park’s location determines, at least partly, the demographics of its visitorship. “State parks aren’t one-size-fits-all,” he said. “Indiana Dunes State Park is situated between two major metropolitan areas, 40 minutes from the most gang-infested urban area in the Midwest. You can’t treat it like its Brown County.”

He concluded his testimony with these words: “This bill, I think it’s a watershed moment for you. Are we going to pander to the pedestrian vices of every Tom, Dick, or Henry in order to make a few bucks? Or are we going to hold to Hoosier values that set that park aside in the first place.”

Rimsans

Rimsans told the committee that he views event venues in state parks as an opportunity for folks to enjoy the park as a whole. “When you build venues in state parks in an environmentally responsible way, you’re giving people a way to experience them and a way to create construction jobs,” he said. “A lot of people are trying to watch their budgets. They’re a low-cost way for people to enjoy the state and have weddings and receptions where they’re the most cost-effective.”

On a more personal note, Rimsans said that he finds it “troubling” that he can’t enjoy a picnic and a bottle of wine with his girlfriend in a state park without violating the law.

Sweeney

Sweeney, while noting that the original text of HB 1247 has been deleted and replaced with the sum and substance of SB 188, said this: “There still won’t be local control. That’s been the mandate of the ATC forever.”

“Eliminating that is very undemocratic,” Sweeney said. And, he added, “it’s pretty suspicious in the way this happened.”

Vandermyde

Operating Engineers Local 150 looks at the Pavilion project as “an economic-development opportunity,” Vandermyde testified.

“We’re all for this,” he said. “We think that with the competitive bidding process, this is going to be good for the State of Indiana.”

Silvestri

Five-hundred citizens addressed the local ABC in the matter of the LLC’s permit application. “This process circumvents that,” Silvestri said. And “it’s double jeopardy for the people who banded together.”

If 500 people publicly remonstrated against the permit application, he added, “that must mean there are thousands who agree with them.”

It’s no wonder there’s voter apathy, Silvestri said, given the willingness of some in the General Assembly to write bills which seek to undo what has already been done through the usual channels. “This is why people think their input has no value.”

Ennis

There are 42 miles of lakeshore in Indiana, Ennis told the committee, “and very few places to have a meal and look out and enjoy the lake.”

The problem with that, Ennis said: “Because we don’t have these places to enjoy the lakefront, people aren’t coming. Or people bring a picnic lunch and leave after a few hours. . . . Our lake attracts people but we just can’t get them to stay and spend the money the could be spending in our community.”

So the Pavilion project is “a critical economic-development factor for our area,” Ennis said. “It will move our region forward and give us the opportunity to have a nice dinner on the lake.”

Ennis also made note of several people with whom she’s acquainted who initially were strongly opposed to the LLC’s plan but then “changed their minds,” because they’d been “misinformed” or “bullied into the position of supporting no alcohol on the beach.”

“I think it’s a shame,” Ennis said. “It’s said that this is what our community has come to, name-calling and bullying.”

Whetstone

Whetstone, speaking very briefly, advocated the principle of an event venue on this ground: people visit a park to attend an event which they might not visit otherwise.

“You allow new people to experience something they may not experience on their own,” Whetstone said.

Quinn

The Sierra Club does not, in principle, oppose alcohol sales or consumption in a state park, Quinn said.

“What this bill does is subvert the established democratic process in determining whether a facility should be given an alcohol permit,” he testified. “After going through the local process and being victorious, now these people have to come down to Indianapolis and wage their fight again.”

“What this bill does,” Quinn elaborated, “is build a wall around the state parks to shut out the local public.” And it’s a “blatant attempt to change the rules because some people did not like the outcome when we all followed the rules.”

Wasky

Wasky’s point was a simple one: “We believe this will help the DNR make the most of its state parks, which are stated owned amenities that will help attract human and financial capital to the State of Indiana.”

Webb

Webb argued that the portions of IC and AIC which HB 1247 exempts the DNR from aren’t actually applicable to the DNR in the first place.

The “high and fine reputation” requirement? “We do not need to waste time evaluating the reputation of the State of Indiana,” Webb said.

The “public nuisance” clause? “We don’t need to waste everybody’s time in determining whether the State of Indiana constitutes a public nuisance. It clearly does not.”

On the issue of location? “We need to be able to trust the state, through the Department of Natural Resources, to make the best decision as to where these permits should go.”

Shublak

For Shublak the question “comes down to this”: “Do we trust the DNR, a state entity on state property, to balance the economic versus the environmental?”

Clark

The DNR receives hundreds of requests every year from folks seeking to rent venues in the state parks which do not fall within the “footprint” of those park areas for which alcohol permits have been granted. “That’s a pretty inefficient way of doing it,” Clark said.

HB 1247, accordingly, would greatly simplify matters by making the DNR the permittee and making the entire state park the area for which the permit is granted.

As for the Pavilion project, “if it’s allowed to develop,” Clark said, “it will bring in a much larger year-round customer base at a park that’s mostly active for three months of the year.”

“In addition to all the expense we would be relieved of,” Clark also said.

Coxey

Coxey testified that the restoration of the Pavilion--halted pending the LLC’s appeal of the ATC’s ruling--is “actually taking the Pavilion back to its historical use,” as the facility used to be, in the 1930s, a restaurant.

Coxey observed as well that, although 500 people attended the local ABC hearing to remonstrate against the LLC’s permit application, between 500 and 600 postcards in support of the project were received by the ABC too.

State Rep. Tom Dermody, R-20th, and the committee’s chair, put this mostly rhetorical question to Coxey: “so”--having taken receipt of 500 postcards in favor of the project--“the (board) is going to support a permit with 500 people opposed to it?”

“It would have been difficult,” Coxey replied.

 

 

Posted 1/29/2016

 
 
 
 

 

 

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