Chesterton Tribune



Damon Run deal could affect Sunset Hill Park Park, Board is told

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The Porter County Park Board may need to prepare for higher water bills if a utilities deal between Valparaiso City Utilities (VCU) and the Damon Run Conservancy District deal goes through.

Park Board Attorney David Hollenbeck reported at the Board’s Thursday meeting that if the utilities infrastructure in the Damon Run Conservancy District is indeed acquired by VCU, the Parks Department may see an increase in its water bill for Sunset Hill Farm County Park, which is at Meridian Road and U.S. 6 in Liberty Township.

VCU moved to acquire the infrastructure at Damon Run and provide service last month, and the Town of Chesterton promptly challenged the deal in a pair of causes filed to the Indiana Utility Regularly Commission (IURC). The causes argue the acquisition, and a recent Valpo City Council declaration that Valpo can provide utilities within a 10-mile radius outside of its corporate limits, would encroach on unincorporated territory that Chesterton claimed as part of its service area in a 2014 regulatory ordinance.

Hollenbeck said the Park Department now pays a couple hundred dollars a month to Indiana American Water in a deal it has through Damon Run. Though the Park uses minimal water, not much more than an average residence, Hollenbeck said, the switch could impact costs.

“To the extent that this raises our water bill, we may have to add a water charge to some of our rentals in order to defray the costs,” Hollenbeck said. “It may become a bigger overall cost for our facility.”

In other legal business, Hollenbeck reported he’s working on two memoranda of understanding (MOUs)--one between the Park Board and the Wildlife Management Board and one between the Park Board and the Highway Department. Hollenbeck welcomed feedback from the Board on the MOU with Wildlife Management and suggested the Board discuss what it wants and what’s available in the agreement with the Highway Department at its December meeting.

New Board Make-up

Hollenbeck also noted that the Porter County Council last month took its opportunity to change appointing authority for the Park Board, an option it picked up from a new law passed in the 2019 legislative session. The Council adopted an ordinance changing the make-up of the Park Board to five members--two appointed by the Council, two appointed by the Board of Commissioners, and one appointed by the County Auditor.

Formerly only one member was appointed by the Commissioners, two were appointed by the Circuit Court Judge, two were appointed by the Council, and one member was ex-officio from either the Extension office or the Soil and Water District. The Auditor and Commissioners have 90 days from the adoption of the ordinance to make appointments. Hollenbeck said its his legal opinion that the current Board should remain in place until all new appointments are made.

Staff Report

Parks Superintendent Walter Lenckos made a reminder that the Winter Lights Festival is Saturday, Nov. 23 at 3 p.m. at Sunset Hill Park. Admission is $5 per car, and the event will feature photos with Santa and wagon rides in addition to the lights.

Northwest Indiana Historical Power Association (NIHPA) will provide wagon rides as usual, and NIHPA President Nick Misch reported they’re working on something new this year--lighting the wagons and tractors. The Iliana Garden Railway Society has put away its running trains for the season, but will have a table display and a Christmas tree, and will light its crossing signal for the festival.

The Board approved Lenckos’ request to transfer $5,400 from maintenance to salaries. The transfer is to fix a paperwork error that shorted the salary line item after the Board dissolved one full-time salaried position and split it into two part-time hourly positions in 2018. Lenckos worked with the County Auditor’s office to make the fix.

Board member Drew Armstrong asked if the transfer would short the maintenance line item. Lenckos said it isn’t ideal, but the money is there because he and the staff tend to leave some in the coffers for maintenance in case something comes up at the end of the year.

Lenckos anticipates a closing date on the Smith Property, a 35-acre parcel abutting Brincka-Cross Gardens, for February. The acquisition will more than double the size of Brincka-Cross Gardens.

The Board authorized Lenckos to request the Commissioners create funds for money from the Lake Michigan Coastal Program and Land and Water Conservation Fund grants related to the acquisition. Lenckos also reported the Board will need to approve a phase 1 environmental study for the property, estimated cost of $5,000 to $6,000 within 90 days of closing. Lenckos said he’s working with the Auditor’s office on possibly encumbering funds from this year to pay the invoice next year.

Meanwhile, the Northwest Indiana Croquet Association is still in the process of fleshing out its proposal for four championship croquet courts with public access at Sunset Hill. The group’s attorney, Michael Sawyier, said Chesterton-based Planned Environment Associates is working on phase 2 of the architectural and engineering design for the courts.


Posted 11/13/2019




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