Chesterton Tribune

State responds to Porter County complaint about bridge agreement

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a letter to the editor by Robert Zier, Chief of Staff, Indiana Department of Transportation

On December 21, Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) LaPorte District Deputy Commissioner Michael McPhillips attended the Porter County Commissioners’ meeting to present a statement regarding a maintenance contract with Porter County concerning the bridge on the Industrial Access Road over U.S. 12. I am writing this letter to clarify for the public the misconception Porter County officials have portrayed.

The contract agreement dated September 3, 2003 specifically states each party’s responsibility regarding the bridge. In that document, the state agreed to construct the bridge, the city of Portage agreed to maintain the approaches to the bridge, and Porter County agreed to maintain the bridge itself after construction. The 2003 contract was signed by the state, the mayor of Portage and John Evans and David Burrus as Porter County commissioners. The Porter County auditor also signed the contract as a witness and the agreement was acknowledged by a Porter County notary public. A copy of the contract is available for the public to view at http://www.in.gov/indot/div/pubs/4317_001.pdf

The state fulfilled its part of the contract in 2005 by constructing the bridge. The city of Portage is fulfilling its portion of the contract by maintaining the approaches to the bridge. However, the Porter County Commissioners continually refuse to unequivocally accept responsibility for maintaining the bridge. Instead, Commissioner John Evans and County Attorney Gwenn Rinkenberger publicly accused the state of coercing the county into signing the maintenance contract in 2003, going as far as stating that INDOT “blackmailed” the county into honoring it. Blackmail only occurs when someone has done or is doing something wrong. INDOT has not acted inappropriately but is simply honoring a legal document. Discussions of the county’s concerns have been ongoing for more than five years. The state did not coerce the Porter County commissioners; however, the commissioners’ refusal to maintain the bridge per the contract is unacceptable. Consequently, the state intends to use appropriate means to encourage the county to do what it agreed to do in 2003.

If Porter County refuses to honor the contract, INDOT intends to notify the Federal Highway Administration of such conduct and recommend that Porter County repay all appropriate funds used to construct the bridge. INDOT may also withhold funding from Porter County that is available for certain discretionary projects in the future. We are not threatening the county with these actions. Rather, to ensure INDOT is being a good steward of taxpayer dollars, INDOT wants to ensure Porter County complies with its responsibilities. Moreover, if the Porter County Commissioners genuinely believe that they were coerced into signing the contract by the state, they have the right to initiate legal action to try to invalidate the contract.

Let me assure the traveling public that at no time was safety of the public in question. INDOT works very hard with counties and municipalities around the state to help with local transportation issues and related economic development activities. Porter County is no exception. Records indicate that Porter County has received $9.4 million in awarded contracts for county sponsored projects since 2000 and at least $2.7 million in pending projects for 2011 depending on the outcome of the county’s action.

I am very disappointed that the Porter County Commissioners have chosen to handle their “buyer’s remorse” publicly and not directly with INDOT in a professional manner. I feel the county has taken a poor legal position in its decision to not honor a signed legal document. Nonetheless, the new year is rapidly approaching and with it a new commissioner will be seated to the County Board. We look forward to amicably resolving this matter early next year in a professional manner.

Sincerely,

Robert Zier

Chief of Staff

Indiana Department of Transportation

 

 

Posted 12/30/2010