Chesterton Tribune

Commissioners seek budget earmarks from Visclosky

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The Ind. 149 extension and an extension of Willowcreek Road to U.S. 30 are two projects that the Porter County Commissioners will submit to U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky for possible funding through federal earmarks.

The commissioners on Tuesday responded to a letter that Visclosky sent to area governmental leaders seeking projects that could be funded with federal transportation funds. County Highway Engineer Ray Riddell said Visclosky’s letter essentially refers to congressional earmarks.

The deadline for local government bodies to submit projects to Visclosky’s office is today.

In addition to the Ind. 149 and the Willowcreek Road extension, the commissioners agreed to submit a request for a bridge project on Willowcreek Road. No dollar amounts were identified, but any project that secures federal funding must be matched by at least 20 percent with local funds.

The county has long proposed the Ind. 149 extension, but the project has been in limbo after cost estimates put the price tag at up to $30 million, due to poor soils that would require the construction of bridges.

Visclosky’s letter says that the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure are crafting new transportation legislation to replace one that expires this September. Under that law, $286 billion was provided for road and transit projects nationwide from 2004 through this year.

Most of those funds have gone to the U.S. Department of Transportation, states, and regional agencies, but a portion is available for projects identified as high priority by members of Congress. The member-designated projects must “result in tangible transportation and safety benefits” to individual congressional districts, Visclosky’s letter says.

Visclosky’s letter requests each government agency to submit up to three transportation projects that could receive funding through the federal earmark process.

In a separate but related matter, the commissioners approved a work order from the DLZ consulting firm to handle the initial design work needed for the county’s projects that will receive funding through the federal stimulus bill. Those projects include a resurfacing of Meridian Road. The contract with DLZ is not to exceed $500,500.

Drainage Woes

Residents of the Fairview subdivision at CR 325E and Division Road in Morgan Township shared their drainage woes with the commissioners Tuesday, saying that a drainage pond in their subdivision isn’t functioning properly and causing water back-ups in basements and flooding on the county road.

Several residents shared their horror stories of having to buy multiple sump pumps, which have been working practically non-stop.

County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke said complicating the problem is that the terrain in the area is very flat and that the county lacks adequate right-of-way. He estimated that the cost to dredge a drainage ditch so that the pond can drain into a nearby ditch could total $200,000 to $300,000.

Commissioner President Robert Harper noted that the county drainage board and its president, Dave Burrus, have been working on a plan, and he pledged that the county will do whatever it can to solve the problem. “We’re going to keep addressing this problem,” he said.

But Harper also noted that the problem with this particular pond -- which some residents blamed on an outlet that the developer never installed but should have -- occurred a number of years ago, before the county instituted new drainage rules. Harper, the president of the county plan commission, said he can’t believe how many subdivisions in Porter County have inadequate drainage, since the county previously didn’t require or enforce drainage plans.

He said he hopes that everyone will remember that the reason why the plan commission enacts new rules, such as the new stormwater ordinance, is to ensure that drainage systems work properly so that problems like those now being experienced by the Fairview residents can be avoided.

Highway Tanks

Also Tuesday, the commissioners agreed to purchase new, above-ground fuel tanks for the Porter County Highway Department’s garage in Center Township.

Highway Supervisor Al Hoagland said the aging underground tanks, estimated at about 30 years old, are not functioning properly. Though there is no underground contamination, the tanks are developing an algae and fungi problem. Hoagland said the cost to clean the tanks is estimated at up to $10,000 with no guarantee that the problem will be solved.

Instead, Hoagland recommended replacing the tanks and installing new tanks above-ground, which will make it easier to monitor for leaks. Above-ground tanks already exist at the new North Porter County Highway Garage.

The commissioners approved a quote of $15,348 from Oil Equipment Supply Corp. for the tank purchase, the lowest of two prices received. The funding will come from the commissioners’ building maintenance fund.

Hoagland said the highway department will handle much of the installation in-house, which has saved the county money in the purchase.


Posted 4/22/2009