We now know that the National Park Service (NPS) will require an environmental assessment process for both the existing Pavilion and the proposed Banquet Center due to past use of Land and Water Conservation Funds (federal funds under the jurisdiction of NPS) at the State Park. While NPS cannot stop the project, they can review any conversion from public use and require mitigation elsewhere, which could prove to be very expensive depending on their calculations. NPS says that they will determine what mitigation will be required only after the Banquet Center plans are given to them, but what if that is not until next year as Pavilion Partners has stated? What if it takes longer? We urge NPS to make a decision sooner regarding the conversion of the existing Pavilion, as it may give us a sense of the magnitude of what may be required in a proposed Banquet Center. Again, focusing on transparency, swift receipt of key information, and public input is our goal. We also feel strongly that any mitigation funds for the existing facility and banquet center – if ever built – should remain in the dunes ecosystem and not taken outside our region since the impacts are being felt locally.
June 30, 2015 Update
Save the Dunes sent in comments regarding the project to DNR for consideration. A copy of those comments can be found here. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources formally responded to our comments, which can be found here. We understand that the project team will be required to undergo an Environmental Assessment due to past use of federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) dollars that restrict the entire park. The National Park Service, DNR and Pavilion Partners should soon announce the details of that process and a timeline. The good news is that Environmental Assessments include a robust analysis of environmental impacts and must also explore a no-build option (in this case that means an option where no additional building is built). We look forward to hearing more from the project team and are encouraged to hear that a transparent, public process that includes a no-build alternative may be what happens next. This is what Save the Dunes has been pushing for since the beginning of this process.
Here is an article that summarizes the work done by Izaak Walton League and Dunes Action highlighting the Land and Water Conservation Fund issue in more detail.
May 11, 2015 Update
Save the Dunes submitted formal comments to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources on May 11, 2015. A copy of our comments can be found here.
Save the Dunes has been monitoring the proposed renovation and expansion of the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion project. Our official position at this time is described below.
Indiana State Parks has provided this Frequently Asked Questions document to provide the public with additional details.
Statement from Board of Directors and Executive Director Regarding the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion Renovation and Expansion
The proposed renovation and expansion of the Indiana Dunes State Park Pavilion is certainly sparking extensive discussion locally and beyond. The Board of Directors and Executive Director of Save the Dunes have been monitoring the project carefully since its inception. As a prominent regional nonprofit keenly focused on the vitality and use of our Indiana dunes, we must comment on the project. However, we have decided to wait to take a formal position on the project until after the public meeting on Monday, April 6.
While we reserve the right to oppose the project, of course, we feel strongly that we want to engage in community conversations about how to balance public enjoyment with protection of the ecosystem first. This has always been our struggle, and we must be thoughtful in our approach.
From our perspective, the greatest concern for the Indiana dunes ecosystem right now is the inflow of invasive species that are displacing the native biodiversity that made this park worthy of preservation in the first place. We are hard at work trying to route resources to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park to help them combat these stressors and expand the acres they can manage and protect. An example is the Black Oak Savanna Restoration Project, which is happening right now in both parks. Nearly all of the black oak savanna is gone from the Midwest, and some of the best remaining examples are in these two parks. Save the Dunes worked hard to secure $1 million through a settlement project and direct it towards restoration of 1,077 acres of this globally-imperiled habitat. We may be losing the Karner blue butterfly, a federally endangered species that depends on oak savanna habitat, because our parks lack adequate resources to effectively manage these areas. This project is not only critical but timely.
We bring this project up as an example because the real, immediate threats to the Indiana dunes ecosystem are not in previously disturbed areas that currently have concrete over them at the beachfront. We also owe it to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to at least listen to their plans for this public-private partnership, as it could bring critical resources to sustain the dunes ecosystem.
That being said, we find it unacceptable that the DNR has not provided sufficient public stakeholder input as they worked with a private partner to develop conceptual and preliminary drawings. They should have honored the community’s deep connection to the Pavilion – and to the State Park as a whole – by calling for public input before putting pen to paper months ago. As a result of skipping this step, many people are understandably frustrated with the lack of transparency in the process.
We are not opposed to the idea of renovating and/or expanding the Pavilion in principle, within reason. However, we believe that any changes at the site must be considered thoughtfully with robust public involvement. As Theodore Roosevelt so eloquently put it, “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.” This is our moment in time to shape what this site will be for the next century, and we must do it together smartly.
Here are our top five concerns at this time. We ask the DNR to provide detailed answers for each of these at the meeting on April 6.
1) DNR must ensure that the public retains the right to access the beach, building and parking areas as they do today.
2) DNR must retain ownership of the structure and any additions. The site must not transfer into private ownership.
3) We must prevent encroachment on the dunes ecosystem during and after construction.
4) The structure itself must not only be aesthetically pleasing, but also energy efficient, smartly designed to protect the dunes ecosystem and wildlife (particularly birds) and also prevent light pollution.
5) The design process must be transparent and must include stakeholder input before, during and after completion.
The team at Save the Dunes looks forward to sharing our official position after the April 6 meeting.