Chesterton Tribune

Census: Porter County grew 13.9% since 1990

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Porter County grew by 17,866 people in the last decade, with Chesterton exceeding 10,000 in population for the first time and the town of Porter growing proportionately more than any other local municipality.

U.S. Census figures released Friday show that Porter County grew by 13.9 percent since the last census in 1990, well above the 7.6 percent jump in the previous decade. The county has retained its rank as the ninth largest among Indiana’s 92 counties.

Porter County’s growth rate far surpassed its neighboring counties. Lake County grew by 1.9 percent, or 8,970 people, retaining its rank as the second largest in the state. Meanwhile, LaPorte County grew by 3,040, or 2.8 percent, and fell a notch from the 13th to the 14th largest.

Looking at the figures one way, it’s as if in the last 10 years, Porter County grew by adding another Chesterton, Porter, Dune Acres, Burns Harbor and Beverly Shores -- combined.

Looking at it another way, the county’s growth during the 1990s was almost double than in the 1980s, when the county gained 9,116 residents, a 7.6 percent increase. But it was way below the massive growth experienced in 1970s, when the county grew by 37 percent by adding 32,702 people, or in the 60s, when the increase was nearly 45 percent, with 26,835 new residents.

The town of Porter had the single greatest percentage increase in all of Porter County, with a 59.4 percent jump, from 3,118 to 4,972 people. Elsewhere in Northwest Indiana, only the town of St. John in south Lake County had a larger percentage jump at 70 percent.

In sheer numbers, Porter’s increase of 1,854 residents was the third highest in the county, followed by Portage, which gained 4,436 residents, and Valparaiso, which grew by 3,014.

Despite earlier fears that the census might show a drop in population for Chesterton, the town had a 14.9 percent increase, climbing from 9,124 residents in 1990 to 10,488.

For the third decade in a row, both Burns Harbor and Dune Acres lost population.

Burns Harbor fell from 788 in 1990 to 766. In the 1980 census, the town’s population was 920.

Dune Acres‚ population stands at 213, a 19 percent decrease over the 263 population in 1990. In 1980, the town had 291 residents.

The only other Porter County community that lost population was Ogden Dunes, which fell from 1,499 in 1990 to 1,313.

Among the county’s 12 townships, Jackson Township had the greatest percentage jump, climbing from 3,473 people in 1990 to 4,592, a 32 percent increase.

Porter County’s unincorporated areas now total 61,322 in population, compared to a total of 85,476 people who live in the cities and towns. While the town and city population increased by a total of 11,271 in the last decade, the unincorporated areas gained 6,853, climbing from 54,469 in 1990 to 61,322.

Area leaders said they were surprised or pleased, or both, by the census figures, which still are considered only preliminary since they can be adjusted later.

Chesterton Clerk-Treasurer Gayle Polakowski said she is happy the town surpassed the 10,000 population mark, as town officials had expected. Earlier, the town got a bit of a scare when a federal grant estimated that the town could lose population once the final census figures were released.

“We were hoping that we’d go over the 10,000 mark,” Polakowski said. “We couldn’t figure out how we couldn’t.”

The town’s nearly 15 percent population jump in the 1990s was significantly greater than in 80s, when the town’s growth was only 6.9 percent. But, as with the rest of the county, the latest census pales in comparison to the 38 percent growth during the previous 10 years, when the town’s population hit 8,531 in 1980.

Polakowski said the town has yet to receive any official census figures and that she learned about the numbers only through the media. She added that the higher figures will increase the town’s share of cigarette tax and alcoholic beverage tax money, since the tax distribution is determined by population.

“That’ll be good,” she said.

In Porter, Clerk-Treasurer Paula Deiotte said she expected the town’s population to grow, but not as much as it did.

“I was expecting us to be around 4,000,” she said. “I was definitely surprised.”

In the 1990 census, Porter grew by only 4.35 percent. In 1980, the town suffered 2.2 percent decline.

Deiotte attributed the latest increase mainly to a flurry of new developments in the last 10 years, particularly Porter Cove and the additions at the Orchard Apartments.

“We’ve had quite a few new subdivisions go in,” she said.

The county’s overall numbers also took County Commissioner President Larry Sheets by surprise, but in a different way.

“I was expecting 150,000,” he said, noting that county officials for some time have been predicting that Porter County’s total population would exceed that benchmark.

Still, Sheets said he’s surprised by the growth in the unincorporated areas. In the 1990 census, he said, the rural growth was concentrated in a few areas, but this time around, every township increased.

“It was interesting to me that in the unincorporated areas, Porter County is growing all over,” he said. “It shows that growth is everywhere.”

In sheer numbers, Center Township had the greatest increase, adding 5,583 residents in the last 10 years, a 17 percent increase from 32,603. In percentages, Jackson Township’s 32 percent increase represents 1,119 new residents, from 3,473 in 1990.

The smallest gain was in Pine Township, which grew by 74 people, from 2,779 to 2,853, a 2.6 percent increase.

Sheets said the numbers reinforce the need for a strong land use management plan, a project the county is close to completing.

“It shows that while we can’t control growth, a land use management plan could show us how to direct that growth,” he said.