- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A privately run banquet center planned for the Indiana Dunes State Park that’s drawn local opposition now has among its foes three statewide environmental and consumer-advocacy groups worried about its impact on the fragile Lake Michigan habitat.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources quietly finalized a deal over the winter with private developers to turn the park’s 85-year-old pavilion into a restaurant and eventually add a two-story banquet and conference hall. Local groups, including Save the Dunes, announced their opposition this spring to the project about 45 miles east of Chicago.

On Friday, the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Sierra Club’s Indiana chapter and the Citizens Action Coalition announced they also oppose the project at Indiana’s second-most-visited park.

Hoosier Environmental Council senior policy director Tim Maloney said opponents “fear the line is being crossed with this project in the dunes” that are among Indiana’s most fragile habitats. There is also concern the conference hall will mar the park’s views of Lake Michigan and create parking woes for beachgoers.

But opponents are mostly worried about the ecological risks posed by the project, particularly to birds that might fly into the planned banquet center’s big windows, The Indianapolis Star reported (https://indy.st/1KuIv0f ).

“They want to take advantage of that beautiful view, which means big windows, which means … it’s going to be devastating for migrating birds,” said Jim Sweeney, president of the Porter County chapter of the Izaak Walton League.

DNR Director Dan Bortner said the project poses minimal ecological risks and the new purpose isn’t far removed from the structure’s old use. The pavilion once housed a fine-dining restaurant that fell into disrepair.

“There’s not a square inch of this project that is going to go on undisturbed land,” he said. “This will all be built basically on concrete that already exists.”

The DNR says the project will raise funds and provide more amenities park-goers have long sought. The banquet center would be located on the east side of the park pavilion and be elevated in an effort to maintain visibility of the beach and allow visitors to pass underneath.

Construction is already underway on the pavilion’s new restaurant, ice cream shop, rooftop eatery and new shower area and restrooms. Those are planned to open later this year. The conference center and banquet hall are expected to open in 2016.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com


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