By Lauren Zeugner
At the Syracuse Town Council’s regular meeting Tuesday night, April 16, several members of the community addressed the council regarding the flood control device in Crosson Mill Park.
John Earnst and Bill Pipp along with Jim Silcox addressed the council. The three were asked last summer to head a committee to look into solutions for fixing the flood control device.
Earnst gave a brief overview of the committee’s work since August 2018. With repairs estimated at around $600,000 for the dam, the committee looked at whether the town, the township and the state could each chip in $200,000.
In October, Earnst met with several officials in Indianapolis and learned there were no matching funds available from the DNR. He then spoke to Bob Meeks regarding what happened when the dam on Sylvan Lake gave way. At the time Build Indiana funds were available Earnst learned the township doesn’t have the funds to pitch in $200,000 to assist with the repairs, but the township advisors agreed to provide $15,000 a year to assist with maintenance of the dam.
By working a variety of resources, the committee was able to get $375,000 pledged. Earnst suggested the town do the repairs all at once rather than break it up into two phases, and get a loan for the remaining $125,000. He indicated the committee was ready to seek permits and let for bids.
Pipp questioned whether spending $20,000 for legal representation was a wise investment. He’s spoken to several attorneys in Indianapolis who are familiar with the problem for free. Those attorneys state the town assumed ownership in 1992. Vern Landis, town attorney, disputed that claim.
Regarding ownership of the dam, it was noted the town has accepted responsibility for maintaining the dam for 27 years and the state has stated it doesn’t own it. Councilman Larry Siegel pointed out there was no contract, the town doesn’t have jurisdiction beyond the water’s edge and there is no date to withdraw from maintaining the dam.
Siegel suggested the county drainage board may have authority over the dam. Pipp noted the Wawasee Property Owners Association is trying to raise money from people in the area to create a conservancy. To date $5,000 has been raised.
Sue Ann Mitchell, president of the Kosciusko County Council, stated if the town doesn’t have authority, the county may not either. She noted Mike Kissinger, county surveyor, can work “from the toe down, but he cannot work on the dam.” Those repairs would cost between $20,000-$30,000.
Mitchell suggested the town meet with Ed Rock, emergency management director, regarding a pre-emergency mediation grant. This grant is reimbursable, meaning the town would pay for the repairs up front with the state paying the town back. It is also a matching grant with the town required to match 25 percent of the grant. However, money spent before the grant is awarded cannot be counted toward the match.
Discussion turned to creating a conservancy which could take two years. To create a conservancy would require 2,500 stakeholders and those people would have to own 51 percent of the property value in the conservancy area. Pipp said he isn’t concerned about getting it done, just how to go about it.
Silcox asked if the town could be given authority over the dam would it want it. Councilman Tom Hoover said no. Pipp pointed out if the dam gave way, the wastewater treatment plant would be taken out. Silcox proposed the dam be considered a crown jewel of the community and if it wasn’t treated that way, the community stood to lose fishing, boating, international ice boating, the Oakwood Inn, local businesses, the marine sector and real estate, all dependent on Lake Wawasee. ”So why are we running away from the dam? If I could give you authority to get the funding, why would you say no?,” Silcox asked. Noting failure was imminent “how do we explain to them (residents)? Who’s going to be named in the class action suit? There’s a lot of opinions in the legal world as to who’s responsible,” Silcox warned.
”People act out of fear and out of love. You ask us to love it, but we fear the cost,” Siegel said. “Pose the question to those who can really do it.”
There is a fund accepting donations for the dam available through the Syracuse Park Foundation. For more information regarding making a donation call Chad Jonsson, park superintendent, at (574) 457-3440.