Chesterton Tribune

NWI Quality of Life Council touts partnerships good for the environment

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Environmentalists and municipal leaders from around Northwest Indiana packed the Harre Union Ballrooms at Valparaiso University on Friday to hear efforts to improve waterways in the region.

Speakers gave the audience a timeline report of how cooperative efforts have resulted in cleaner water quality focusing on the Grand Calumet River Restoration Project in Lake County, the Salt Creek Project in Valparaiso and the Trail Creek Project in Michigan City.

Executive Director of the Quality of Life Council Jim Flannery said the environmental partnerships have improved conditions, working steadily against the perception of being a region filled with “belching smoke stacks and water pollution.” With the programs in place, more residents are likely to migrate to the area.

“We’re no longer the domain of the polluted and the blighted. We’re a bright, shining example of a wonderful place to live,” said Flannery.

Nicole Barker, executive director of Save the Dunes, said she is proud of the partnerships that have been forged and added that making bonds strengthens trust and leverages more funds for organizations. Partnering, she said, is key especially managing though the “pinch and pressures” of this rough economy.

“Life is richer, easier and happier having help from your friends,” she said.

Municipalities have teamed with regional organizations such as the Northwest Indiana Regional Plan Commission (NIRPC), the NWI Regional Development Authority (RDA) and the NWI Paddling Association on environmental issues. Barker said she believes that healthy watersheds and quality of life for residents are intertwined.

In another presentation, Dr. Lynne Westphal of the U.S. Forest Service introduced the Urban Waters Federal Partnership program which had selected Northwest Indiana in June as one of the agency’s pilot sites to assist in further cleanup already being done.

Northwest Indiana was one of the Urban Waters pilot locations and its sole Midwest location. The others include Baltimore, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, New Orleans, Denver and New York City. Approximately $2 million to $4 million in federal revenue will be divided among projects.

The program aims to build on existing success, Westphal said, in seeing further cleanup for the waterways. The federal partnership includes 11 agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Cooperation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The initiative looks to reduce pollution in the Little Calumet River, Trail Creek, and Salt Creek in order to open more possibilities for recreational activities. It also proposes to create more jobs in environmental restoration and bring more visitors to the Lake Michigan shore area.

Rather than looking at just portions of watersheds in the other Urban Waters pilot locations, the scope of the NWI project aims to look at all waterways.

More information can be found on the Web site, www.urbanwaters.gov.

Meanwhile, Indiana Department of Environmental Management Thomas Easterly led a discussion on the dredging project of the Grand Calumet River. The project is expected to cost a total of $180 million, $136.5 million of the amount will be federal monies.

IDEM, EPA and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources undertook a $33 million joint effort to restore a 1.1 mile segment on the west branch of the river and removed nearly 92,000 cubic feet of sediments containing heavy metals and pesticides.

The waterway is said to contain between 5 and 10 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment.

Easterly said the river is the only area in the Great Lakes that has been deemed an area of concern by the International Joint Committee. The EPA has also identified 14 beneficial use impairments for the Grand Calumet.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” said Easterly.

Michigan City Mayor Chuck Oberlie said 25 agencies are working to continue cleanup of the Trail Creek waterways. Cleanups have managed to remove several tons of steel debris in the sensitive areas. The efforts have allowed for trails to be restored, providing more opportunities for recreation.

Speaking on the improvements of Salt Creek in Valparaiso, Mayor Jon Costas emphasized the importance of planning which puts discussion into action. Costas advocated working together with different entities to unify efforts as a way of solving problems.

The session also received a video message from Congressman Pete Visclosky applauding the programs.

“Each of these programs is important to the advancement of everyone living in this region,” Visclosky said.

Northwest Indiana Quality of Life board member Tim Stoner of Stoner Farms said the council was formed nearly ten years ago to make an impact on various industries and address the issues facing the region as a whole. The 25-member board includes university heads, mayors and business owners from Porter, Lake and LaPorte counties.

The council convenes quarterly discussing a new topic each time. Recent topics have included economic development, the importance of education and ethics management in local government.

 

Posted 12/6/2011