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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

January 29, 2019

The Munster Times. January 24, 2019

Nonprofit plan would open Dunes to further public enjoyment

One of the Region’s biggest and most beautiful selling points is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

One of the greatest shortcomings of that asset are limits to the public’s ability to fully access and enjoy it.

That’s why a plan by the nonprofit Dunes National Parks Association to renovate and lease as vacation rentals several historic homes on the lakeshore is so attractive.

It’s a great first step, but the association and National Park Service shouldn’t stop there.

A plethora of other details, including better parking at many of the Dunes’ most scenic beaches and trailheads, also should remain an important part of the long-term plan.

In the property restoration and rental plan recently unveiled by the association, the historic Dr. John Meyer home and several others on Beverly Shores’ Lake Front Drive would be renovated and made available to vacation renters.

The stunning views from these lakeshore homes, situated atop dunes overlooking Kemil Beach, will offer visitors an incredible opportunity to lodge in the heart of our Region’s greatest natural wonder.

A number of major national parks boast onsite lodges where visitors can stay and receive the best, most immersive experience.

Shy of this new plan, Indiana Dunes National Lakshore lacks such facilities.

The plan to historically restore and develop the Meyer House, the Schulof Lustron House and the Soloman Enclave into vacation rentals is friendly to the Region taxpayer.

Association leaders believe the renovation project will carry a $1.5 million price tag.

A fundraising campaign, seeking all private funds to make it happen, already is underway. Information on the initiative is available at www.dunesnationalpark.org.

Revenue generated from house rentals would funnel back into the upkeep of the structures and possibly to other Dunes park programming.

The plan would add a jewel to an already beautiful Beverly Shores and Kemil Beach.

Kemil Beach is one of the most serene and scenic on the Hoosier lakeshore.

We hope the renovation project seeds interest in better parking and other amenities there as well.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. January 24, 2019

Farm implement

Indiana is among the top 10 states in pork, chicken and egg production and ranks high in a range of other agricultural commodities. As the factory farms responsible for most of that bounteous yield continue to grow, we need tougher rules to prevent waste from those facilities from fouling the water and air. A bill to establish such rules is scheduled for a hearing in a legislative committee next month.

Concern about these increasingly large facilities isn’t save-the-planet environmental idealism. Nor is it driven by lack of respect for farming traditions or lack of appreciation for the essential role farm products play in all our lives. This is about preventing the kind of close-by, in-your-face pollution issues that can make nearby homes unlivable and cause property values to plummet.

It’s about keeping facilities whose animals produce immense amounts of waste from building or expanding too close to neighborhoods or other institutions or businesses. And it’s about insisting these megafarms have properly designed ventilation systems to control odors and properly maintained and regularly inspected holding ponds to prevent groundwater, well water and lake and stream contamination. In Indiana, the “right to farm” is guaranteed by state law. But residents who share Indiana’s rich rural spaces with these plus-sized factory farms also have a right to be free from fouled water and noxious air.

Farms which comprise 300 or more cattle, or 600 or more swine or sheep, or 30,000 or more chickens, turkeys or ducks, are classified as confined feeding operations. Their big siblings, called concentrated animal feeding operations, may have, for instance, 700 or more mature dairy cows, 10,000 or more sheep or lambs, or 55,000 or more turkeys.

According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, there are 1,815 CFOs within the state, of which 796 are CAFO-sized. Though the number of farms of all sizes has diminished in recent years, individual CAFOs seem to be growing ever larger. Five years ago, according to Kim Ferraro, agricultural policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, the average CAFO had about 5,000 hogs; today, it’s about 10,000. All that adds up to big environmental-management challenges: Indiana’s livestock produce as much untreated waste as 87 million people - 14 times the state’s population.

IDEM has very limited ability to see these big facilities are properly sited and constructed or that these massive amounts of potential contaminants are handled properly. In the seven years its current regulations have been in effect, for instance, the department has not successfully denied a single application for a new CAFO, Ferraro said. Earlier this month, IDEM approved a request to build an organic dairy farm in Newton County. Opponents fear the farm, which will house 4,350 cattle, could pollute wells that supply drinking water to as many as 300 homes and contaminate the nearby Kankakee River.

Environmental advocates tried but failed last year to get a hearing for a bill that would beef up state regulations and enforcement.

A new version of that measure, House Bill 1378, has been introduced by Republican Rep. Thomas Saunders of Lewisville and Democratic Rep. Carey Hamilton of Indianapolis. The bill, which Ferraro said has been modified to meet some of the objections legislators expressed last session, has been assigned to the House Committee on Environmental Affairs, where it is expected to be discussed Feb. 13.

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South Bend Tribune. January 22, 2019

Public records laws protect your rights

A recent court case involving an Indiana resident serves as an emphatic reminder of the power of public records laws.

And whose rights such laws protect.

In this case, a judge rejected an argument from the Louisiana attorney general that the state’s public records law only applies to state residents. Indianapolis researcher Scarlett Martin had requested records involving the attorney general’s dealing with the oil industry. She received thousands of pages in response — but only after she filed a lawsuit in March 2017.

In her lawsuit, Martin said she paid $250 for the requested copies but didn’t get them 175 days after filing the records requests, despite repeated assertions from the attorney general’s office that the documents were forthcoming.

The attorney general argued that Martin didn’t have the right to sue because she doesn’t live in Louisiana.

State district Judge William Morvant spurned this reasoning, saying, “There is no implicit or explicit basis to say the Legislature intends that we have open public records, but you have to be a citizen of this state.”

So, a fitting ending, a sensible ruling on public records. But wait, there’s a larger lesson here, one for people who think of newspaper investigations when they think of public records requests. It’s a wake-up call for those who don’t see themselves and their rights in these laws.

It’s true that newspapers routinely use public records laws to obtain documents. But these laws are designed to protect the public’s right to know what government is doing in their name. Whether it’s seemingly mundane details, controversial decisions or something in between, such particulars are part of the workings of taxpayer-funded government and the officials who are accountable to the public.

Public records laws don’t protect the rights of only reporters and free press advocates.

They protect your rights.

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