Chesterton Tribune

Existing problems vs. future development: County looking at drainage priorities

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By VICKI URBANIK

A committee is now in place to guide an ambitious, comprehensive drainage plan in Porter County, but questions remain over exactly what that plan should entail.

Porter County Plan Commission Executive Director Bob Thompson said he and the committee members have their own thoughts on which direction the plan should take, but that the Porter County Commissioners need to weigh in on the issue. The discussion that followed at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting highlighted a host of options.

Should the county plan prioritize areas where development is happening rapidly? To what extent should the drainage plan focus on solving existing drainage problems, and which county department is best suited to solve the clogged waterways and faulty detention ponds? Or should the plan’s emphasis be more proactive, setting capacity limits for waterways so that planners know about possible drainage impacts before they approve new subdivisions?

Or should the plan somehow address all those areas?

Thompson said the plan may need to prioritize drainage projects, particularly in the Damon Run watershed in Liberty Township where there is much growth and concerns that the drainage ditch can’t handle more water. He also said the county might be able to access federal grants for work done in the Lake Michigan watershed.

County Commissioner President Robert Harper, also the president of the plan commission, said it’s important to fix existing problems, the new drainage plan should look more to the future to prevent drainage problems before they occur.

He said there’s nothing in place currently to help planners know if a particular creek or drainage ditch can handle more water, and that it’s crucial for the county to know what the impacts of a new development would be downstream.

“I think we’ve got to get ahead of the curve,” Harper said, citing the need for a formula to determine the capacity of waterways. “We have to have a formula for the future.”

North Porter County Commissioner John Evans agreed that determining the capacity of the drains will help county planners when they consider new subdivisions. But Thompson said that such comprehensive data would require topographic information that the county currently doesn’t have and which will be expensive.

But Harper said the county is already spending considerable amounts of money trying to remedy drainage problems. He said the county is probably addressing drainage just like most other counties: By taking a piecemeal approach rather than a global one.

Thompson said the plan might need to come up with rules or regulations that are specific to each waterway. “We’re arguing about the same thing,” he said at one point.

The committee formed Tuesday by the commissioners will help guide the new drainage plan. The committee will meet later in September to narrow down the list of potential consultants that will prepare the plan before holding interviews.

Along with Thompson, the drainage plan’s committee members are: County Highway Supervisor Al Hoagland, Assistant Highway Supervisor David James, Harvey Nix of the Porter County Soil & Water Conservation District, County Building Commissioner Mike Haller; County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke, drainage board president Dave Burrus, plan commission member Rick Burns, Valparaiso City Engineer David Pils, and Portage City Engineer Craig Hendrix.

LaPorte 911

Also Tuesday, the commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding with LaPorte County’s 911 dispatch center in which each county agrees to back up the other if either center shuts down in an emergency.

Porter County 911 Director Dave Sheibels said in the event of a crisis that blocks either county from dispatching 911 calls, the other county will take over dispatching the calls.

Harper said he’s impressed with both counties’ emergency dispatching capabilities. “We have a very well-run, modernized center, and so does LaPorte,” he said.

Evans asked if, in the event of a shut-down, Porter County would transfer employees to LaPorte to work temporarily. Sheibels said such personnel issues aren’t spelled out in the agreement, but that both counties would direct their staff members as warranted in the situation.

United Way Kick-off

The commissioners passed a resolution declaring October as United Way of Porter County month and urging the public to contribute to the United Way’s fall fundraising campaign.

United Way Executive Director Sharon Kish said the social service agencies supported by United Way are responding to the growing needs in the county, making it essential that the fundraising campaign raises as much funding as possible.

She presented a variety of statistics: United Way agencies in Porter County last year served 79,730 county residents; the county had 488 persons known to be homeless last year, half of whom were children; people who lack medical health insurance total 16.8 percent in Porter County; and the county currently has a 9.4 percent unemployment rate.

At Kish’s request, the commissioners agreed that United Way could visit with county departments urging employees to contribute during the upcoming campaign.

 

Posted 9/16/2009