May 26 2011
Anyone who is familiar with the news in Lake County knows full well the devastating impact the floods of 2008 had on the region. Since then millions of dollars of state and federal money have been pumped into the “Little Calumet River Basin Authority” (“LCRBA”) to finish a job that should have been done twenty years ago. To the LCRBA’s credit, construction of the levee is basically completed. Now, our attention is being focused upon the issue of how to maintain the levee. Who will be in charge? Who will pay for this maintenance and how much? We need to provide answers and solutions to these questions quickly, so that we never have a repeat of the 2008 disaster that struck our communities.
At this point, there are two approaches being considered. One is to keep the LCRBA intact and in charge of assessing the required fees. The other is a proposal being offered by the Lake County Surveyor, George Van Til. Recently, Mr. Van Til introduced an ordinance to the Hammond City Council to create the “Calumet Burns Conservancy District” (“CBCD”), which will consist of the entire Little Calumet River watershed, which covers most of Lake County and parts of Porter County. Surveyor Van Til plans to introduce identical ordinances to the City and Town Councils of all the communities that would be affected by his proposal.
If the Hammond Council passes this ordinance, a petition will be filed in the Lake County Circuit Court to begin the process of creating the CBCD. If the petition is successful in the Circuit Court, and the CBCD is created, the responsibilities and costs associated with maintaining the newly constructed levee will fall to the leaders of the newly created district.
The leadership of the CBCD will be elected from the landowners within the watershed. Since all communities that send water to the Little Calumet River will be assessed a fee, all communities should be represented on the CBCD. Currently, 4 out of the 5 members of the LCRBA reside in Munster. This is unfair to residents of the watershed, when 80% of the board is from one community. On the other hand, the CBCD calls for 9 elected members, 8 of whom reside in different parts of the watershed (1 elected member will be an at-large member). This system is not only more fair, it is also more representative of the entire watershed. The levee system and its maintenance is a regional problem, and each community affected by this problem should have a say in the solution.
The CBCD proposal is less expensive than the proposal offered from the LCRBA as well. Because landowners from both sides of I-65 will be assessed a fee under this proposal, the pool of funds available will be larger, which means everyone will pay their fair share. Under the initial proposal brought in statehouse this year, landowners from east of I-65 weren’t assessed a fee at all, even though their water contributes to the river level just as much as landowners from west of I-65. That imaginary boundary was wisely removed from the CBCD and the entire watershed is included in the proposal. Outside of political considerations, there was never any rationalization for the exclusion of the landowners east of I-65. Their water contributes to the problem just as much as water from west of I-65.
Overall, I feel that the CBCD approach is a wiser course for the watershed to take than the current format. Currently in Indiana, there are over 120 Conservancy Districts, with a few of them right here in Lake County. What is unusual is the composition of the LCRBA, with 100% of the appointments appointed by the Governor, 100% of the appointments coming from a single political party (Republican) and 80% of the appointments coming from a single community. The operating and maintenance costs, of the Little Calumet River, is a local issue that should be handled locally. I am asking the communities along the river to educate themselves on this issue and consider Mr.Van Til’s proposal. In my opinion, it is a fair and local solution to this pressing local problem.