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Temporary trail closing clears way for 4-lane bridge to Urschel plant

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By KEVIN NEVERS

If you hiked the trails at the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve this week, you may have noticed that the southernmost half-mile of the system has been closed and chained and is now off limits to all foot and bike traffic.

That closure is temporary but it will be fairly lengthy in duration--until sometime this fall, or whenever Urschel Laboratories Inc. has completed construction of the new four-lane bridge over Johnson Ditch and Coffee Creek.

For Katie Rizer, executive director of the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy--the not-for-profit charged with overseeing and maintaining the Preserve’s 157 acres--there is one absolutely essential point to be made about the bridge project.

And about Urschel as well, for that matter.

It is this: the Watershed Preserve remains inviolate. It’s not being deforested, dug up, or paved over, either by Urschel or by any other party. Land which has been developed at Coffee Creek Center, or is under development, or is available for development, is all outside the 157-acre Watershed Preserve, which will remain forever a preserve.

“Last summer, when ground broke at the Urschel site, I started getting phone calls, e-mails, ‘Someone’s building in your preserve!’” Rizer told the Chesterton Tribune on Tuesday. “‘No, we wouldn’t let someone do that,’ I would say.”

“People don’t really understand what’s happening,” Rizer explained. “They think they’re protecting our honor when they criticize economic development. When in fact economic development is good for the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve.”

That’s because every commercial--and residential--property owner at Coffee Creek Center pays a certain annual amount to the Coffee Creek Center Congress, roughly equivalent to a POA. Commercial, not surprisingly, “pays a bigger chunk into it” than residential, and the larger the commercial property the larger its payment. Among other things, the Congress is responsible for the common areas in the development. But in the Congress’ budget is a dedicated line item funding the Watershed Conservancy, which in turn administers the Watershed Preserve.

Rizer put the Watershed Conservancy’s funding--that line item in the Congress’ budget--at $265,000 per year, which she said is ample to cover the expense of tending the Watershed Preserve’s trails, for instance, or pulling invasive plants. That funding, moreover, is exclusively for the maintenance of those 157 acres and is not spent outside the Watershed Preserve.

But that amount will only grow larger as there is more development in Coffee Creek Center. Urschel will pay into the Congress itself, Rizer said, when it takes possession of its property, probably late in the winter of 2015.

The Bridge

The bridge itself--to be built immediately south of the present Bridge No. 6--is actually referenced in the original Watershed Preserve deed, when the Lake Erie Lane Company presented the 157 acres (with an estimated value then of $13.9 million) to the Watershed Conservancy. Because LEL wanted the trail system to remain contiguous in perpetuity, it restricted the bridge easement to an extremely narrow 100 feet.

And then LEL stipulated that any bridge traversing Johnson Ditch and Coffee Creek must be tall enough to allow foot and bike traffic to pass unimpeded beneath it, along six-foot paths on either side of Coffee Creek.

Work clearing the 100-foot easement has now begun, Rizer said. To protect the public, the Watershed Preserve trail has been closed immediately south of Bridge No. 5 on both the west and east sides of Coffee Creek.

The Watershed Conservancy has “no say-so in how the bridge is actually constructed, aside from the 100-foot easement and the height,” Rizer said. “But we have been involved in discussions with the Urschel people, who’ve been very open to our suggestions about orientation, for example.”

Company President Rick Urschel, for his part, is particularly pleased with the bridge. “We are really proud of that bridge,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of help from the Coffee Creek Watershed Conservancy and Lake Erie Land and the town. It’s been a long hard winter but a productive one.”

The Conservancy

The mission of the Watershed Conservancy--administered by a seven-seat Board of Directors--is to “identify, monitor, and enhance the remnant biodiversity of the Coffee Creek Watershed while protecting recreational and educational experiences for all,” Rizer noted.

Under the documents establishing the Watershed Conservancy, the 157 acres in the Watershed Preserve may not, under any circumstances, ever revert back to the Lake Erie Land Company or to any other for-profit development outfit, Rizer said.

Should the Watershed Conservancy be liquidated, for any reason, the acreage would legally have to be transferred “to a like-minded not-for-profit,” Rizer added.

Rizer is looking for a big year in the Watershed Preserve, which is one of this year’s Rebuilding Together Duneland sites, where 300 trees are going to be planted to replace some of the 1,800 lost to the emerald ash borer.

Monthly stewardship days are also on tap in 2014, devoted to such activities as invasive control, water-quality monitoring, bird monitoring, and woodland cleanup. Visit www.coffeecreekwc.org for details.

And a Purple Martin condo complex is going to be installed at Phillips Pond.

 

 

Posted 3/21/2014