Bill to purchase land by National Lakeshore dies, but starts preservation conversation
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org February 11, 2013 2:28PM
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:18AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Creating a nature preserve for Moon Valley, a parcel of 57 acres of land, is gaining support from state representatives Monday, but a bill that would make it a state nature preserve will not move out of the Natural Resources Committee.
House Bill 1379, authored by State Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, would create a state nature preserve, protecting the biologically diverse land from future development. It would require that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources purchase the land using funds from the Indiana Natural Heritage Fund.
The site is only 2.5 miles away from Indiana Dunes Natural Lakeshore, and 30 percent of the state’s threatened, rare or endangered species can be found around the property.
The land, owned by a development company that has filed for bankruptcy, could be sold at any time. Environmental groups like Save The Dunes, the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, and Alliance for the Great Lakes, said they would be willing to find ways to operate the nature conservancy. And securing the land has local support, since fundraising efforts in 2011 to try to secure a grant to purchase the land raised over $152,000 in pledges from over 150 people.
“Despite the bankruptcy hearings, they are marketing the property for sale,” said Nicole Barker of Save The Dunes. “Although the bank has expressed that they would love to have the property preserved as open space, that they need to move the site and are actively trying to sell it now.”
She said that recent discussion she had with the bank said they would consider a price of around $1.2 million, compared to the $3.8 million proposed in August 2011. She added many nature conservancy groups would be willing to take on maintenance costs to keep the property open to the public.
Chris Smith of the DNR said the department supports preserving the land, but mandating the purchase could do more harm, like increasing the price tag on the land. He added that the Natural Heritage Fund only has $44,122 in its account.
A number of representatives voiced that they would like the DNR to find a way to preserve the land. Some, like Republican State Reps. Alan Morrison of Terre Haute and Robert Morris of Fort Wayne, said they wanted to see action to preserve the land sooner rather than later, and State Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, said he hopes to see the land become a priority for funding from both the Heritage Fund and other natural resource funds.
“It was well worth the discussion,” State Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, said. “I know I had no idea of Moon Valley’s potential impact until today.”
He added that the legislative body does not want to force the DNR into purchasing the land, but the hearing showed that state representatives support the efforts to preserve the property. Eberhart also said he would work with Pelath over the summer in case any legislative concerns came up while organizations and government agencies attempt to preserve Moon Valley.
Pelath said he was delighted by the support voiced by the members of the committee, and while the bill died, he was “delighted” by the level of support to preserve the property. He also understood that the bill could have forced the DNR into a corner, but he wants the department to stay involved.
“It’s my hope that there can be a non-legislative solution to this,” Pelath said, “I introduced the bill because it’s one way the general assembly can help bring the partners together. The outcome we want is to have the property preserved.”