Chesterton Tribune

Liberty Township residents push for Damon Run to serve 49 corridor, not Chesterton utility

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Residents of Liberty Twp. yearning to be heard got their chance to speak on the Chesterton Town Council’s proposal to include the county in its Ind. 49 utility corridor project during Tuesday’s Porter County Council meeting.

About a dozen spoke out at the meeting inquiring if the Town of Chesterton had plans to expand its boundaries into Liberty Twp. all the way to the U.S. 6.

Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said he and other council members received a large volume of calls after the County Commissioners voted favorably 2-1 in February to accept the Chesterton Council’s offer which would require a $900,000 share from the county.

Although the county council has no authority over the project and a formal request has not been put forward, Whitten said he thought the citizen concerns should be part of the public record.

Prior to public comment, Chesterton Town Council member Sharon Darnell told the county council there has been “conflicting information” circulating in regard to her board’s intentions. She said the town council has the funding ready to begin work on bringing new sewer and water lines along Ind. 49 to Chesterton’s town boundary near the Indiana Toll Road. The $900,000 is the maximum amount that would be required to upsize the pipes and valves for adequate capacity to bring utilities into the unincorporated county land should the county decide to develop the area further south of Chesterton.

Any money left over from the upsizing would be paid back to the county, Darnell said.

Darnell and fellow Chesterton Council member Jeff Trout said they hope to have a bid proposal for the work go out sometime this month.

While other rumors have the town set to annex Liberty Twp. land, Trout stated the Chesterton Council has no such ulterior motive.

From the floor, Liberty Twp. Board president Ed Seykowski said Chesterton has left township residents out of corridor discussions. He presented documentation from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission verifying the Damon Run Conservancy District’s authority to render water and sewer service to certain areas of the county. Seykowski said the URC stated Chesterton’s proposal to run sewer lines “would result in duplication and abandonment of utility facilities that (Porter) Hospital has already constructed” with service to be provided by Damon Run.

Jack Barko, chairman of the Damon Run Conservancy District, said he had not been approached by the Town of Chesterton for any discussion. Barko said the conservancy district is running at only 16 percent of its capacity and is ready to receive more customers.

“(The district) has the capacity to handle new business,” he said.

Barko said he would be willing to go through a due process with the county to determine if the conservancy district’s services can better serve the areas in question.

Liberty Twp. resident Herb Read said the land surrounding his residence on Calumet Road near U.S. 6 is mainly zoned Rural Residential and doubts the utilities will serve any real benefit to existing homeowners.

“To extend (utilities) to Route 6, I think, is overreaching,” said Read.

Read asked what would be the funding source if the county council puts forth $900,000. He said he would like to see that money used for other purposes such as a county park.

Both Read and neighbor Ed Gutt urged the county not to rush into development and that the $900,000 could be paid not with taxpayer dollars but by businesses looking to set up shop in the area.

Gutt said if proper measures are not taken, the county could end up with a situation like South Haven which is said to be the county’s most dysfunctional area for drainage.

“(Development) should be planned. It should not be off the cuff,” said Gutt who mentioned he favors the county considering Damon Run since their utilities are ready to service the area.

Liberty Twp. resident Tim Cole said he believes the confusion surrounding the project is because it does not have a plan yet. He said the fact that Chesterton is attempting to incorporate the area south of CR 900 N is undisguisable and he believes the effort was prompted when the hospital was set for construction.

Cole said he could not support the corridor project because he did not see how it could be feasible to the economy of Liberty Twp. or even Chesterton.

Andrew Kincaid, president of the Timberland Homeowners Association, said homes in his subdivision have paid to hook on to the sewer lines and has not been any burden to the county. The same could happen in cooperation with Damon Run for potential development on the 49 corridor.

In his response, Trout reiterated it is entirely up to the county how it would like to proceed with the offer and the Town of Chesterton is not intending to take away any residential land.

“We have no desire to ‘gobble up’ Herb Read’s property,” Trout said.

The opening of the new hospital will inevitably attract businesses to the area, Trout said, and there will be “enormous pressure” to create job opportunities.

With the hospital and other medical campuses, $280 million has already been invested in the corridor area, he said. “We think the county wants to be shovel-ready,” said Trout. “Utilities don’t follow jobs. Jobs follow utilities.”

Darnell said the mapped areas where the utility corridor would potentially reach past the Chesterton town limits were not drawn up by Chesterton but the county’s planning department.

“If we’re in trouble, the teacher got us in to trouble,” she said.

Whitten said the county should study the specifics of the project further before committing any funds.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he believes there is “plenty of opportunity” for development surrounding the hospital but emphasized careful consideration is needed for residents in the area who are already paying for utilities.

Fellow Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, said he was bothered by a report last year that raw sewage was being dumped into Lake Michigan from the Little Calumet River and said proper drainage procedures need to be a priority.

Meanwhile, Seykowski told the council he is working on a separate proposal that will “knock your socks off” which he plans to present in the next six to eight months.

 

Posted 4/4/2012