Chesterton Tribune

Porter Town Council united in backing RDA

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Bill Hanna was preaching to the choir Tuesday as he extolled the benefits of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to the Porter Town Council.

Last year the RDA awarded Porter $1.8 million for its Gateway to the Dunes initiative for the Indiana 49/U.S. 20 corridors. Porter hopes to receive additional RDA money in the future for its $19 million share of the project.

After hearing Hanna, the RDA executive director, make a brief presentation, the Town Council voted 4-0 with member Micheal Genger absent adopting a one-page resolution indicating Porter’s continued “involvement, support and active participation” with the RDA.

The resolution notes that the RDA investments in the region have and will provide direct and indirect benefits to the residents of Porter, and that creation of the RDA provided the opportunity and resources to address both local and regional issues that affect the town and its citizens.

Council president Michele Bollinger told Hanna, “Thanks for believing in our town.” He applauded Porter for its plans to leverage the adjacent natural resources of the dunes for the town’s benefit without changing its character.

Hanna said the RDA, the only one of its kind in the state, was created in September, 2005 joining Porter and Lake counties and the cities of East Chicago, Gary and Hammond in a unique partnership with each committing $3.5 million annually to fund the RDA and the state also contributing money.

But now, Porter County is attempting to withdraw from the RDA with a court hearing slated for Jan. 26 in Jasper County; some county officials contend Porter County isn’t getting enough bang for its RDA buck.

Hanna said the RDA has invested more in Porter County than the county has paid into the agency, and that it’s unfortunate the county’s appointment to the seven-member RDA board has been recalled.

“It’s really kind of a shame we can’t get input on their behalf,” said Hanna, saying it’s a disadvantage not to have a voice speaking for Porter County. Although RDA board member Harley Snyder is a county resident, he is a governor’s appointment.

Hanna explained the RDA board struggled whether to award the town of Porter any funds because of the situation, but it was felt Porter’s Gateway to the Dunes project would promote enhanced accessibility, economic development and transportation alternatives that are in keeping with the RDA’s own goals.

Hanna emphasized that the resolutions of RDA support he is seeking from Porter County communities have nothing to do with the pending lawsuit and doesn’t mean anyone is taking sides in the dispute.

Even a legal victory in court for the RDA doesn’t solve the perception problem, said Hanna.

“The (RDA’s) value has to be realized by the citizenry in Porter County.” Just over $17 million has been invested by the RDA in Porter County, he said, and millions more for projects that benefit it like $3.5 million toward the recent purchase of 14 new South Shore commuter train cars.

The RDA was created with jurisidiction in five areas: the Gary/Chicago Airport, extension of the South Shore line and increasing its current capacity, Lake Michigan shoreline development/redevelopment, the Regional Bus Authority and general economic development.

Porter Stormwater Management Board member Bill Cantrell asked Hanna why the RDA can’t help fund needed improvements for sanitary sewer and stormwater upgrades. “If we don’t take care of that, all this (RDA) stuff is just dressing,” said Cantrell.

Hanna said the RDA is intended to take a collaborative, regional approach in addressing important projects and partnerships that otherwise would stall without action occuring. He cited lakeshore redevelopment under the Marquette Plan, including recent construction of Portage’s lakefront park on reclaimed industrial land, and planned coordination of bus and commuter-rail services as examples.

With competition stiff and money short, Northwest Indiana needs the RDA to stay viable and become one regional community instead of isolated islands, according to Hanna, the former Valparaiso city manager.

The region needs good jobs, lower taxes, a better quality of life and a healthier Northwest Indiana both economically and socially, continued Hanna, and the RDA wants to help make that happen.

“If we don’t continue to evolve and change, those opportunities will shrink,” he stated. “If we don’t grab hold of our destiny,” Hanna added, “We turn it over to outside forces.”






Posted 1/13/2010