By Deb Patterson
An estimated $50 a year is all it will cost freeholders around Syracuse and Wawasee lakes should the Turkey Creek Dam and Dike Conservancy be established, according to an estimated budget presented during a Natural Resources Commission public hearing Thursday afternoon, July 23. Approximately 13 people attended the hearing, which lasted close to two hours.
The hearing is the second step in a request to establish the conservancy to take care of future maintenance and the potential replacement of the outlet structure in Syracuse in addition to repair of an earthen dike that created to provide housing in Wawasee Village.
David Hollenbeck, attorney for the petitioners, presented 18 exhibits during the hearing and called four witnesses regarding those documents. Among the various exhibits was the estimated annual budget. This budget, totalling $135,000, included $35,000 for administrative areas — regulatory compliance (regular inspection of the outlet structure), financial and legal consultants, general administrative expenses, and miscellaneous — and $100,000 for a cumulative capital fund. The cumulative fund would allow funds to grow each year. He noted these fees could be raised in several ways – special benefit tax based on assessed valuation, an exceptional benefit tax based on a set amount or the pursuing of state and federal grant money.
Hollenbeck noted the economic impact of a failure of either structure would be devastating. “The bottom line, any one of these approaches could be used and the annual cost would be $50 a year based on the general assessed valuation.” He noted the creation of a cumulative fund makes the most sense and is the most favorable.
“No one’s got a crystal ball,” Hollenbeck stated, using a reference to purchasing a vehicle and the unknown expenses after it’s purchased. “We may or may not be in a position in three to five years with the accumulated fund to cut back. If that does happen, it could drop $10 a year.” Hollenbeck noted he and the petitioners are confident in the plan and felt it and the budget are economically and engineering cost effective.
Additionally, he pointed out the conservancy could set a rate of up to 3.33 cents per $100 assessed valuation. “We’re nowhere near that.”
Time was given for public comments both for and against the creation of the conservancy.
Only two people spoke during the public comments: George Marlow, Syracuse Lake, and Art Garceau, Wawasee Lake.
Marlow went on record saying simply he is in favor of the conservancy.
Garceau, who did not speak in opposition to the formation, spoke about the need for accuracy and fairness. He explained it is not a dam; it is a lake control structure, not a flood control structure. He also asked for clarification of who the freeholders are, noting there are some unresolved properties that do not have contiguous access to the lake. “Theses things need cleared up before we go further.” He also suggested those along SR 13 who benefit from the dike’s existence should be included as freeholders. Additionally, he noted some things should be worked out regarding the dike, which is owned by two parties before money is put toward something on private land. “Some of these issues were addressed, some still need to be addressed,” Garceau stated.
Outside of the estimated budget, exhibits included various documents such as inspections of the control device, ownership, engineering study, permits, petitions, court documents, a map used in delineating the district and legal description of the map. Letters from Wawasee Yacht Club, town of Syracuse, Syracuse Lake Association, Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation, Wawasee Property Owners Association and Syracuse-Wawasee Trails Committee were submitted in support of the conservancy’s formation.
A printout of a PowerPoint presentation was also submitted. Presented by John Earnest, it included history, an overview of the structure repair costs, the Lilly Center economic impact study on the value of the lake to the county and community, risks if the structure failed, information on the village dike and the future with the conservancy.
Witnesses included Earnest, William Pipp, Kay Young and Steve Snyder. Most of their statements expanded on information being presented and about the entities who provided letters of support. Snyder, however, expanded details on the dike and why there were five properties included in the conservancy area that were not adjacent to the lake.
Dawn Wilson, administrative law judge, NRC Division of Hearings, who chaired the hearing, noted the conditions the petitioners needed to address to establish the conservancy. Because there were some questions she raised that could not be answered immediately, she gave the petitioners an additional week to provide clarification in several areas, including the estimated costs to repair the dike and further explanation on the five properties.
Wilson noted she would be making a recommendation to the NRC for its Sept. 15 meeting. Her report would include information presented during the public hearing, letters and emails received, and a report from David Smith, water resources planner with the DNR Division of Water – Project Development. Additionally, Wilson noted her recommendation would be an attachment to the agenda for that meeting and could be viewed on the internet.
Should the NRC approve the conservancy’s formation, it will be referred back to Kosciusko County Circuit Court for a hearing, no sooner than 21 days after notification for final action.