By VICKI URBANIK
With three members switching their votes, the Porter County Council on
Tuesday released the funds needed toward a tri-county effort to purchase a
farm rail line on the brink of abandonment.
With its $50,000 commitment, Porter County now joins LaPorte and Starke
counties, along with the LaPorte County Co-op, town of North Judson and the
Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum, in putting up the local share for the $1.9
million acquisition, of which up to $1.5 million is expected to come from
Plans call for a quasi-governmental entity to be formed to oversee the
operation of the line, which runs from Malden grain towers in Porter County
CSX is scheduled to abandon the tracks by the end of this week. If enough
funds weren’t secured for the acquisition by the agricultural coalition, the
property would have likely converted to recreational trails.
Last month, in a vote that clearly stunned rail supporters, the council shot
down the funding, 4-3. But on Tuesday, council members John Ruge, R-at
large, Al Steele, R-3rd, and Rita Stevenson, D-2nd, reversed themselves,
appropriating the funds from the $3 million available to the county
government this year through the County Economic Development Income Tax.
Stevenson criticized the county commissioners for not giving the council
more advance information when they first presented the rail request. She
said she thought when the council enacted CEDIT, the commissioners and the
council would work together planning the use of the money, but that did not
happen in this case.
Saying that she voted no last month largely because of concerns presented by
one opponent, Stevenson said she has since collected unbiased information
that prompted her to change her mind.
But she also took strong exception to a characterization made in a LaPorte
County newspaper that the council didn’t seem to understand the issue last
month. She said she fully understood that doing away with the rail line
would affect farmers’ transportation options.
“When it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said.
Ruge said he now knows that the county itself will not be buying the CSX
line, as he thought last month when he voted no.
After recessing and hashing out the particulars with council attorney Dave
Hollenbeck, the council agreed to release the funds only under the following
•That the rail line will not return later asking for more tax support.
•That an acceptable intergovernmental agreement can be reached that resolves
questions of liability, allows Porter County to recover its contribution if
the effort goes bankrupt, and establishes an acceptable maintenance plan.
The council also agreed to find out the accuracy of a claim made by a rail
opponent that the state is considering closing the rail crossing at U.S. 30
in Hanna. But the state legislators in attendance – Ralph Ayres,
R-Chesterton, Nancy Dembowski, D-Knox, and Steve Heim, R-LaGrange – all said
they know of no such plan in the works.
“If they close the crossing, INDOT would be throwing away $1.5 million,”
Heim said of the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Just as they did last month, advocates of preserving the line said Tuesday
it would keep costs down for farmers, spur economic development countywide
and protect a disappearing infrastructure. Opponents once again argued
against the use of tax dollars for the effort.
“Let the farmers buy their own railroad,” said Valparaiso resident Andrew
Medema, who called on the council to rescind the CEDIT.
But Lee Nagai, the engineer for the town of Burns Harbor, said even though
he is involved in an organization that directly competes with the LaPorte
County Co-op, he favors the rail’s acquisition.
He said every rail spur torn up in this country is used by Brazil to build
its own rail infrastructure. He said this country needs to keep the rail
systems it already has.
“Look a little globally,” he said.
Steele made a motion to delay the matter and set up a committee to look into
the concerns raised, including the U.S. 30 closure issue. The motion failed
The council later voted 6-1 to approve the funding. Only Carole Knoblock,
D-4th, voted no.