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 Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)

Portage lakefront gets $400K for erosion project in state budget

Sen. Karen Tallian secured the necessary funding in the state’s biennial budget toward a study to solve the erosion plaguing Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk.

Tallian, D-Portage, said $400,000 would be placed into the state’s beach nourishment fund each of the next two years, the result of several years of effort on her part and that of several municipalities and other agencies.

Erosion at the riverwalk, which is part of the Indiana Dunes National Park, has been a problem for years. A viewing platform collapsed into the lake and 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.

Tallian said Thursday the House did not have the funds in their version of the budget but pledged not to object if the funding made it through the Senate. She’s confident the funding will remain as-is in the budget as it makes its way to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

“It got to the point where we just need the money. People were receptive to our problem and I think the fact that it’s a national park might have given us a little bump,” Tallian said, referring to the national lakeshore’s designation as a national park in mid-February.

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, Tallian said. The study is required to receive federal money 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.

Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism, said the fact that there’s $800,000 in the budget is a sign that legislators want to be part of the solution at the park, which opened in 2008 and is a partnership between Portage and the National Park Service.

“That moves us much closer to where we need to be,” she said.

The next step will be determining where to get the rest of the money, Weimer said, since both the study and the beach nourishment are necessary to protect the park, but the funding commitment from the state “is a good portion to leverage with.”

“This is fantastic news. All Hoosiers have a stake in their new national park and it’s great to see the legislators step up and recognize that,” said Colin Deverell, Midwest program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

He has a scheduled meeting April 12 with representatives from the Army Corps and said some funding possibilities could be available there.

“We’re turning over every stone to find funding for beach nourishment,” he said.

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