Great Lakes
Part of a walkway that was once atop a nearby dune now sits in the water at the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk on April 10, 2019. (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)

Legislature's $800K cut of beach erosion funding leaves officials looking for answers

Portage, Indiana - Advocates for the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk are searching for another funding source for a federal study to save the park from erosion after $800,000 in state funding slated for the next two years was abruptly sliced from the final budget.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said earlier this month that $400,000 would be placed into the state’s beach nourishment fund each of the next two years, but reported Wednesday as the state budget was being finalized that the funding had been stripped from the budget with no explanation.

Tallian said Thursday the funding was one of several cuts made by legislators who were “ruthless” in their decisions and left her feeling “so disappointed” after the amount of time and energy she spent in Indianapolis.

“This is a time-sensitive issue. We need it now. I don’t know what the state of anything is going to be when we come back in two years to do another budget,” she said, adding that emergency or discretionary funds, or money from Homeland Security, could maybe be used. “Right now, I have no idea.”

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)

Tallian and park advocates had hoped to receive $1 million from the state, with the goal of also funding beach nourishment with the deposit of dredged sand to protect the park in the short term, since the study will take more than two years to complete.

The $1.6 million federal study by the Army Corps of Engineers required a 50% match that did not come from federal funds. The study is required to receive federal dollars for a solution, officials have said.

Officials have said the beach nourishment would cost an estimated $400,000. The communities of Portage and Ogden Dunes have committed $200,000 and $50,000, respectively, to resolve the issue.

Erosion at the Riverwalk, which is part of the Indiana Dunes National Park and sits along the Lake Michigan shore, has been a problem for years. A viewing platform collapsed into the lake and a handicapped accessible ramp to the beach washed away because of the encroaching lake, and advocates have said the pavilion at the park, protected by a rapidly shrinking dune, also could be in jeopardy.

Colin Deverell, program manager of the Midwest Regional office for the National Parks Conservation Association (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)

“Obviously we’re very disappointed and anybody who loved the Indiana Dunes National Park should be disappointed, too,” said Colin Deverell, program manager for the Midwest regional office of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Without the funding, the park faces continued risk from beach erosion, he said, adding the study that would bring a solution requires a funding partner outside the federal government.

“The state is the right entity to fill that goal,” he said.

The loss of state funding is “a setback for sure,” Deverell said, but the conservation association and its partners remain committed to finding a long-term solution.

Advocates know they have supporters in the legislature, he said, and will be regrouping to figure out what the answers are.

“The problem isn’t going away, nor are we,” he said.

Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, said in an email that the Indiana Dunes are the No. 1 visited attraction in the state of Indiana and the seventh most visited national park in the nation, she said.

“Visitors travel to the dunes to experience our beaches, and without a long-term solution in place, our beaches will continue to erode, which will put our tourism economy and our ability to attract new residents at risk,” she said, adding a solution must be found and the tourism bureau and its partners “will remain committed to finding the answer.”

Amy Lavalley is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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