Chesterton Tribune

Paddling group coordinating debris cleanup with county drainage board

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A new effort by members of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association could open more recreational opportunities for those wanting to experience the Little Calumet River.

On Monday, former Chesterton Town Council member Gina Darnell, who currently is the chairperson for the Blueways Stewardship Committee of the NWIPA, brought their efforts before the Porter County Drainage Board asking if they would be willing to assist in debris removal through the areas where the county-regulated Kemper Ditch connects with the Little Calumet.

The NWIPA received help this past year from volunteers, the Town of Porter, and the nonprofit Gary-based Wildlife Habitat Council to clear downed trees that had been blown over by the tornado that tore through the area in August 2009.

Darnell said it is the group’s goal to open these waterways to create new water trails, stretching about 16 miles from the Heron Rookery all the way to Burns Ditch.

She estimates there to be 50 to 100 log jams from the Herron Rookery all the way to the edge of Brumitt.

Darnell said 15 obstructions were identified in the stretch of river from Brummitt School to behind the Jewel store, 7 major jams from the tornado and construction debris from Ind. 49 to Waverly Rd., and 12 jams spotted from Porter to U.S. 20.

“We are having to document these constantly,” she said.

The clearing has been done with the help of volunteers using small hand tools. Darnell said the group will need further assistance from the county and towns on the much more complex jams. "Our issue mainly is large debris,” she said. Darnell said the larger work would need to be done by crews who are insured or chainsaw professionals.

Porter County Drainage Board President Dave Burrus said he thinks the board will be willing to lend a hand, believing the removal could help some of the drainage problems. He anticipates the work will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

“(NWIPA) could be a helpful partner in some of these hard to reach areas,” said Burrus.

One standing question is where the debris can properly be disposed. Darnell said she will check around with the National Lakeshore to find any site that can properly burn or chip the wood.

Darnell said the organization got a grant from the National Parks Service’s Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program. A meeting will be held in March with various supporting groups of NWIPA to further discuss the expansion of the water trail. The NWIPA’s membership numbers tally in at 350 currently.

Darnell said the goal is not to remove every log jam, but only those that are impassible to traveling canoes and kayaks. The costs will be large, but forming these partnerships is a good start to improve the river corridor, she said.

Resident Expresses Frustration Over Pond Issue

From the audience, Pine Twp. resident Rich Conrad asked for an update on what plans the county has regarding a pond bordering his property that had drained last summer after county workers performed dredging work in the area to control flooding. Conrad contacted the Indiana Department of Environmental Management who investigated the site south of U.S. 20 and east of Brummitt Rd.

The nearby Kemper Ditch had been dredged and a new culvert was also installed under Brummitt Rd. so that the water would flow.

Complications arose when the county was cited for not having the Section 404 permit needed from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for wetland fill. Vanessa Villarreal, a spokesperson from the Corps told the Chesterton Tribune a violation was issued because the county buried some riffraff into a jurisdictional waterway and for putting drudge material into a jurisdictional wetland.

The Corp said a restoration plan was prepared by a local natural resource consultant which later was approved by the Corp and IDEM. The plan was then implemented last fall.

The county said in October it would work with the two agencies on the restoration work and comply with all the requirements it is given. Burrus had said the plan basically was to restore the pond to some level that would satisfy the majority of neighboring residents.

Conrad had told the Tribune the work done has failed to drain the water properly and claims to have video documentation proving it.

“Water does not lie,” he said. “It’s backed up with nowhere to go.”

Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke said he has been in close contact with the Corp on the matter. Villarreal said any further work would depend on determining if certain standards are met.

“The restored area has to be managed and met using certain standards before the enforcement case can be closed,” said Villarreal.

Conrad said when the pond drained, it killed about 500 fish which was seen by some members of the drainage board. He rejects the claim made by the county and IDEM that their efforts would help improve the conditions for wildlife in the wetland area. The pond was inhabited by blue heron cranes, he said.

Burrus said to Conrad, “We have committed to meeting the requirements of the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Natural Resources, and IDEM. If you have an issue, you will need to talk with them about it.”

Burrus said if there are further instructions from any of those agencies, the county would comply with the requests.

Conrad, who questioned if taxpayer money was being used to fund the work, holds the contention that the county had erred in their survey work. He plans to hire an attorney to investigate the matter.

“I can never get answers from these people,” he said.

Golf Course Neighbor

The board also entered a tentative agreement Monday to split the cost of implementing standpipe and tile outlet on a 30-acre parcel bordering the Brassie Golf Course on Pearson Rd. evenly with property owner Charles Coker.

The amount was estimated around $25,000 but the final figure will probably change when bids for the work are given.

Further work will extend Arm 3 of the Gustafson Drain. Breitzke said part of that will rely on the cooperation of the golf course which he said is willing to work on an easement on its north side. The board also voted to ask the golf course to do seeding where needed.

Coker’s side will also include swales weaving throughout his property. A culvert will also be placed underneath the former railroad line and a ditch alongside Pearson Rd. on the north end will be opened to catch water moving westward.



Posted 1/11/2011