By Deb PattersonEditor-In-Chief
Three years of work by three men — John Earnest, Bill Pipp and Jim Silcox — came to fruition Thursday afternoon, Dec. 3, when Kosciusko County Circuit Court Judge Michael Reed approved the formation of Turkey Creek Dam & Dike Conservancy.
The next step will be the submission of five names of people to serve as board members of the five conservancy districts. This is expected to take place at the Dec. 22 Kosciusko County Commissioners meeting.
The petitioners took 45 minutes to present their case to Reed before he entered his decision. There were no remonstrators present and no objections had been filed with the court.
Dave Hollenbeck, attorney for the petitioners, called six witnesses to the stand — John Earnest; Dennis Zebell, senior civil engineer with Lawson-Fisher Associates, South Bend; Breagan Eicher, senior water resources engineer; Kay Young, local realtor; Dr. Nate Bosch, director of Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams; and Bill Holder, director of the Kosciusko County GIS system. The witnesses testified to the processes taken to form the conservancy, the repairs needed and made to the water control device, proposed improvements to the dike, impact of failure and consequences of the dam and water control device, economic impacts, and how the five board member districts were created.
Earnest provided information on how the formation of the conservancy came about. He noted the numerous meetings held since May 2018, the creation of the committee and the process to have immediate repairs completed at the lake control structure. That project concluded on Nov. 30. During his testimony, he noted the town had no funds set aside for maintenance asking the property owners to pay for the repair costs and after an agreement was reached denied ownership of the structure. Ultimately the town did provide some funding with private individuals paying for 50 percent of the repair costs.
When asked why the formation was important, Earnest stated, while he was not in favor of another government agency, his property and those of others need to be taken care of. “To keep the (current) values of the property, I don’t want the town council, who has no idea what they are doing to be proactive (to be in charge). We want to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Zebell noted in his testimony most of the major issues from a 2009 study had been resolved and the structure had no major issues. He also referred to a Nov. 25 memorandum that provided a summary of the work completed at the control structure, recommendations and estimated cost for the Koko Dive Dike Repair, a review and comment on the December 2017 Indiana Department of Natural Resources inspection report and a review of actions taken to alleviate structural deficiencies of both structures and recommendation for future maintenance.
Eicher addressed the consequences of a breach of the dike as well as the failure of one or both of the gates at the control structure or a failure of the entire structure. During his testimony he noted the dike impounds 2 to 3 feet of water and a failure would result in an estimated maximum lake level would slowly be a loss of 3 feet. However, the area between the dike and Huntington Street (SR 13) would hold that water.
Relating to the failure of the gates, Eicher stated there would be a 5-foot loss of water in Syracuse Lake, and the maximum lake level loss for Wawasee would be approximately 3 feet.
Should the structure fail, he said there would be a 7-foot depth loss at Syracuse Lake and a maximum drop of 3 feet for Wawasee. However, downstream, there would be flooding along Turkey Creek.
Young and Bosch both testified to the economic loss to the area. Young noted there would be an approximate 50 percent loss in the value of lake property. Bosch referred to an economic impact study in 2016. He noted Syracuse and Wawasee lakes contribute to 10 percent of the taxes generated in the county, but create 80 percent of the $1.4 billion property valuation in the county. He also noted the two lakes provide a large portion of the economic impact lakes have on the county.
Holder explained how he developed an almost equal districting of the conservancy, using the county GIS system and parcels. He noted of the 3,503 parcels most districts will have 704 parcels with some having as few as 698 parcels. “That is as good as we can get and as close,” he stated. He did note the initial look was to see if there were any natural breaks such as channels. “As we worked around the lakes we could come within 5-6 parcels. It was noted initial thoughts were to have Syracuse Lake as one district, however, there was not enough parcels go reach the target of 700 parcels so that district included some of Wawasee Lake.
Before ending his presentation of evidence, Hollenbeck addressed the issue of financing and stated it is believed “the district is necessary … the economic and engineering benefits are in excess of the cost of damages.”
The conservancy will be back before the court after the board creates a plan in the near future.