- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MONTICELLO, Ind. (AP) - Water levels are dropping at a northwestern Indiana reservoir where lakeside residents and business owners who rely on tourism and recreation for their livelihoods are angry about water releases to safeguard endangered mussels.

The operator of Lake Freeman’s dam, Northern Indiana Public Service Co., is under a federal agency’s order to release water to protect riverbeds with endangered species of mussels.

As a result the lake had dropped to more than 23 inches below normal on Monday, limiting boaters’ access. And while this week’s rainfall boosted the water level to 18 inches below normal, businesses are hurting in Monticello, a tourism-reliant community about 20 miles north of Lafayette.

Tall Timbers Marina owner Gary Creigh said he’s been forced to lay off employees.

“I don’t have gas pumps, no ramp, and at this point I’ve laid off four employees. It’s really getting into our income level not to be pumping any gas,” he told the Journal & Courier (https://on.jconline.com/1oINVYF ).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the mussel mandate to NIPSCO - which operates Oakdale Dam - in 2012 during a severe drought. But this year’s drop is greater than the 2012 decline, even though the state is not in drought.

The water level began dropping rapidly Aug. 1 when the utility began releasing water to comply with the federal order to divert lake water into the Tippecanoe River to alleviate pressure on the endangered, water-deprived mussels.

Lake Freeman resident Judith Bowman said the releases must stop and that someone should find a way to protect the mussels without impacting the lake.

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita’s office will hold a town hall in Monticello Thursday after receiving a deluge of calls for help from concerned residents.

On Aug. 5, Rokita sent a letter to Daniel Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noting the “severe economic damage and serious safety concerns” on Monticello, Lake Freeman residents and adjacent Lake Shafer. He urged the agency to work with NIPSCO to suspend the water release order.

“The reward of protecting these creatures does not outweigh the economic loss and safety risk to the Lake Shafer and Lake Freeman communities,” Rokita wrote.

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Information from: Journal and Courier, https://www.jconline.com

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