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