EVEN MORE LAKE COUNTY HEADLINES
Controversy and cooperation were key words in 2014 as Lake County officials worked to consolidate emergency dispatch services, plot a new bistate roadway and relocate the iconic South Shore Air Show.
Air show grounded, flying back to Gary
A plan by the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority to move the South Shore Air Show from Marquette Park in Gary to Fair Oaks Farm in Newton County sparked controversy and criticism. Mother Nature, however, had the last word.
Intense spring and summer rains flooded the fields where the tourism bureau had hoped to stage the event.
The move was expected to help the tourism bureau monetize parking to help offset the costs of the event, which has lost about $160,000 each year. Tourism officials called off the event a week before it was set to take flight after it was determined the fields would be too wet for attendees and their vehicles.
The initial plan to move the air show drew the ire of Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott who took to social media to lambast the South Shore CVA, Speros Batistatos, its president and CEO, and its board of directors. The controversy died after the cancellation.
In November, Batistatos said an air show was not on the tourism board’s radar for 2015. Shortly following that announcement, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson announced she planned to host the air show on the city’s lakefront with the help of several Gary/Chicago International Airport businesses. Illiana rolls over opposition
Plans for the Illiana Toll Road received a necessary thumbs up from the federal government to allow the process to continue despite a large and vocal opposition.
The Federal Highway Administration signed the Illiana Corridor Tier Two Record of Decision in early
December ending the planning phase and throwing the agency’s support behind the transportation need for the project so implementation can begin.
However, detractors say the battle against the roadway is not over as the process continues to move forward.
“It’s just further intimidation,” said Patricia Mussman of West Creek Township, at the time. Mussman has been leading the charge against the Illiana in Indiana. She said the fate of the proposed new toll road ultimately will rest in the hands of Illinios’ new governor, Republican Bruce Rauner.
The Record of Decision approves the analysis of its environmental impacts, as well as any mitigation efforts and concurs with the selected route alternative for the new 50-mile highway that will run from Interstate 55 near Wilmington, Illinois, to Interstate 65 near Lowell.
It also means land acquisition efforts, including landowner relations and local planning activities, also can continue.
Solid waste district trashes director’s contract
Longtime Lake County Solid Waste District Director Jeff Langbehn found himself at the center of controversy after board members learned of a gift for an employee bought on the taxpayers’ dime.
Officials initially supported Langbehn’s purchase of what was described as a $600 briefcase for an employee who earned an advanced degree and would be using the item for work purposes.
However, as details of the purchase of what was a Michael Kors purse and accessories surfaced, as well as receipts of other purchases deemed inappropriate by waste district board members, officials took Langbehn to task, ultimately terminating his contract.
A search is under way for a new director. Former Deputy Director Jeanette Romano is serving as the district’s interim director.
Quarry opponents dig in for fight
Opponents of the proposed Singleton Quarry in south Lake County continue to fight against the plan they say will damage property values, ruin valuable farmland and risk the local water supply.
Approval of the plan was granted by a Lake County special drainage board despite opposition from every elected officials representing the area where the quarry will be sited. State Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, County Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, Lake Commissioner Gerry Scheub, DCrown Point and various township officials spoke out against the plan.
Scheub was removed by the courts from the drainage board in matters relating to the quarry due to conflict of interest. The special drainage board approved the quarry drainage permit 2-1.
The Department of Natural Resources is expected to make a decision on the first of several necessary permits in early 2015.
Jail close to compliance
The Lake County Jail is inching closer to compliance with a Department of Justice mandate requiring increased staffing and improved conditions at the facility.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said the jail is 75 percent compliant with the Department of Justice mandate stemming from the 2011 settlement of a lawsuit filed by inmates in 2007 claiming inhumane conditions and inadequate health care while the jail was under the administration of former Sheriff Roy Dominguez.
“Almost half of the deficiencies cited originally have been eliminated by the court as satisfied,” Buncich said at the time.
Change in Democratic Party leadership June saw changes in the leadership of the Lake County Democratic Party.
Sheriff John Buncich took over as chairman of the second strongest Democratic organization in the state in a tight caucus run-off against Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. announced he was leaving the post to focus on his family and the city.
Buncich said under his leadership he plans to “invigorate” the party and create an atmosphere of inclusion. He plans to open the lines of the communication and get more people involved as the party looks to regain seats lost to Republicans in recent years.
The party was successful in reclaiming the Lake County Assessor’s office after a Republican, the late Hank Adams won the seat in 2010. It was the first time a Republican was seated to a county wide office in more than 50 years.
Jerome Prince, who chose to run for assessor instead of seek re-election to the County Council, reclaimed the seat for Democrats.
County dials in on E911 consolidation
Consolidation of Lake County’s 17 public safety answering points into
one E-911 dispatch center took large strides forward in 2014 but will not meet the Dec. 31 state deadline for the effort.
Fifteen of the 17 units have signed on to participate in the consolidation, with St. John joining the effort in a last-minute split-decision by its town council Dec. 23. Only Cedar Lake and Schererville remain to join the consolidation and appear to be moving forward with their own separate joint dispatch center.
Brian Hitchcock, Lake County 911 director, said while every effort was made to meet the deadline, construction of the facility only began in earnest earlier this year after 14 units signed the agreement. Hitchcock said the consolidation is expected to be complete sometime in March.
Linda Cosgrove of Hebron speaks about air quality concerns during a public meeting on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at Hebron High School
Indiana state Rep. Rick Neimeyer speaks to residents who traveled to Peotone, Ill., for the Illiana protest.
Convention and Visitor Authority president and CEO Speros Batistatos and Fair Oaks Farms CEO Gary Corbett stand in a soggy field near the area where the beer garden at the South Shore Air Show would have been in Newton County.
Workers ready 50-foot sections of the 200-foot E-911 communications tower going up at the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point.