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IDEM Asks For Public Comment On Water Quality and Supply

The state wants public input into its decision making process on designating which watersheds in Indiana may be unfit for use. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management  has issued a notice that is it seeking public comment on a draft list of what it refers to as impaired waters.

This process happens every two years. This biennial review, in turn, forms the basis for further studies and watershed planning efforts in communities across the state by IDEM that is then uses to help ensure that Indiana waters are healthy enough to support activities such as swimming and fishing, and, where needed, to provide public water supplies.

The public comment period is open through July 29th.

Here is the link to the states watershed resource.

I-69 Construction Erosion Problems In Bloomington Go Unanswered From INDOT

Bloomington and Monroe County officials pushed for answers June 13 about erosion problems that have persisted for more than a year along the planned route of Interstate 69.

The policy committee of the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization submitted questions months ago to the Indiana Department of Transportation. They asked about contaminated waterways along section 4 of the interstate, which has been under construction since last year. INDOT sent a written response earlier this month, but committee member Cheryl Munson said it was incomplete.

“I had a number of questions about that response and was disappointed we couldn’t have a discussion with a representative,” Munson says. “The points that bothered me most were the statements INDOT sent rather than answers to questions.”

An INDOT official, Janelle Lemon, was scheduled to respond to the committee’s questions during a presentation May 9. But that presentation never happened.

Committee member Scott Wells said he was disappointed with INDOT’s treatment of the issue. Wells has contended for months the state is not using the right erosion control methods to prevent contamination.

“It’s unfortunate and disconcerting that the people we want to be here aren’t here,” Wells says.

Residents along the path of the interstate have reported erosion problems throughout the state. As construction is set to begin in Bloomington later this summer, mayor Mark Kruzan said he wants to see more details from the state about how they are addressing the problem.

“Is there anything being brought up in writing, verbally, in presentations, emails or meetings, where INDOT looks at this and says, here are things that have been alleged and we think yes this is valid and we’re working on it or no this isn’t us,” Kruzan explains.

Kruzan went on to suggest how the MPO could force the state to listen to the local concerns.

“I don’t think that just because someone doesn’t attend a meeting that they’re guilty of anything,” Kruzan says. “But obviously with this much notice, there’s no reason for them not to be here at the other meeting. If that happens, I certainly will be moving to table all the requests INDOT makes from MPO until we get answers to all of those bullet points that we have.”

Construction on Section 5 of the interstate is expected to begin by September. That section will run from Bloomington to Martinsville.

IU, After Local Pressure, Alters Plan To Demolish 6 Historic Houses

Indiana University will be deciding this week on the fate of six historic Bloomington houses.

Last year, IU announced plans to build a new law school facility on land currently occupied by Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, commonly known as FeeGee. IU agreed to build a new facility for the fraternity on the 800 block of E 8th St which is part of the University Courts historic district. The area has been placed on the state historic register since 1992 and on the national historic register since 2007.

Alarm over IU’s demolition plan of the homes prompted the City of Bloomington to place the district on its list of local historic districts this spring. This designation requires city approval for any development plan in the area, but there is dispute as to whether state owned property would be exempt from the city purview. A legal opinion solicited by Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana found credible argument for the designation to apply to the demolition of the eight street homes even though they are owned by IU.

Beyond the legal rights, IU has come under considerable pressure from the local residents, the Historic Preservation Commission of the City, members of City Council and the Mayor, to preserve the houses slated for demolition, and according to an agenda released today, IU seems to have listened.

The IU Trustees Facilities Committee will be looking at a new proposal that would move four of the houses a block to the west, while still demolishing two properties. Philip Eskew, an IU trustee and chair of Facilities Committee, explains what prompted the alteration of the plan.

“We’ve worked with the mayor, the council and the historical group in Bloomington to listen to their concerns,” Eskew says. “We are recommending to the trustees that we change what we had initially said tearing down the houses and instead move the four worthy of being saved.”

Eskew affirmed that the university believes that it has the legal right to dispose of the houses any way it sees fit.

A bill introduced into the Indiana legislature earlier this year by local state representative Matt Pierce would have required public institutions seeking to demolish, move or change the exterior of a university building within a historic preservation district to obtain a certificate of appropriateness before commencing work.

In Bloomington, it would be the City’s Historic Preservation Commission that would control the certification process. However, the bill failed to make it to the floor of the House in time for passage during this year’s session.

Nevertheless, the local pressure seems to have had some impact on IU.

“There were several groups, even neighbors, that spoke about the tearing down of the houses,” Eskew says. “I think this is a reaction to that and we’re trying to be good neighbors with the community, as we always have been.”

The meeting of the trustees that will be addressing this item will be on the South Bend Campus of IU.

Eskew says the committee will make a recommendation and act on the action items.

The Facilities Committee of the Trustees meeting on Thursday will be from 3:15 to 5 p.m. The full Trustees meeting on Friday will be from 12:45 to 2 p.m. Both will be in combined rooms 221, 223 and 225 of the Student Activity Center of IU South Bend. Both meetings are open to the public.

‘Race Across America’ Bike Tour Coming Through Bloomington

Next week, bicyclists on a country-spanning race will be trickling through Bloomington.

Participants in the annual Race Across America road race will set off from Oceanside, California June 10 on their way to Annapolis, Maryland. They are expected to start coming through Time Station 39, in Bloomington, starting around Monday, June 16 through to the weekend. There are different categories of racers, male and female, single, double and team.

Jim Schroeder, a local resident and bicycling enthusiast, is the captain of Station 39, which will be on College Mall Road, in front of Casa Brava restaurant. He says this race is unique in it’s length and time.

Race Across America is not like the notable Tour races, Schroeder says its harder with a longer distance in shorter time.

The race draws competitors from across the globe, especially Europe where ultra-marathon bike racing is popular. The European teams are professional bike racers, sponsored by corporations. Schroeder says that it costs at least $30,000 to finance a team, which includes riders, crew, equipment and supplies. Many of the racers raise funds from pledge donations which they donate to their favorite charity.

It is expected that the leading competitors in the Race Across America ultra bicycling marathon race will be coming through Bloomington starting Monday, June 16 and continuing into the weekend.

They will be riding south-west along the 45/46 bypass, loop around the mall along 3rd St, Hillcrest, and College Mall Road, and checking in with their time in front of Casa Brava Mexican restaurant.

Hoosier Hills Food Bank Provides Monthly Food Boxes To Low-Income Seniors

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Starting in June, Hoosier Hills Food Bank (HHFB) will begin providing monthly boxes of food for up to 100 low-income senior citizens in Monroe County. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program is already operational in Brown, Crawford, Orange, and Martin counties.

Potentially eligible seniors must complete a program application and will be scheduled for an interview to document their eligibility. Casey Steury, the Director of Programs for HHFB, says to be eligible, they must be 60 and over, live in Monroe County and be 130% of the poverty level or less.

Funding for the program is  provided by the US Department of Agriculture and Indiana State Department of Health, but Steury says that volunteer power is really what runs the program, and that without volunteers getting the word out about the program, many eligible seniors who don’t have access to internet or newspapers wouldn’t know that help was available.

The HHFB provides food for soup kitchens and shelters but the monthly food delivery program is the one time they get to interact directly with the people who benefit from their work.

“This senior program is the one program where we actually get to hand boxes directly to these seniors,” Steury says. “Because they get this food they don’t have to decide between buying food or medicine this month.”

The seniors then provide feedback on how this program has helped to improved their lives.

About 7% of Monroe County’s senior population are living below the poverty level.

Indiana Board of Pharmacy Bans Synthetic Drug Compounds

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The Indiana Board of Pharmacy has banned four compounds that are used to make the synthetic drugs K2 and spice. The board is working closely with Indiana State Police to pass emergency rules to battle the ever-changing chemical formulas.

These synthetic drugs are extremely dangerous because the majority of users are youth that may think these are natural substances. K2 and spice are synthetic forms of with highly unpredictable effects. Communications Director for the Indiana Board of Pharmacy Nick Goodwin reflects on the dangers of these synthetic drugs.

“The dangers are widely documented,” Goodwin says, “Recently, 4 kids from Columbus, IN were hospitalized and were on synthetic drugs.”

Goodwin says there are misconceptions to the legality and safety of these kinds of synthetic drugs.

Reported effects of synthetic cannabinoids include increased heart rate, anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, seizures, and chest pain. No official studies have been conducted, but data show that 11,000 people ended up in the emergency room in 2012 from smoking these substances.

Goodwin says this emergency rule will go into effect next Friday.

Once this rule is in effect, Indiana State Police will begin to prosecute providers of these synthetic drugs if the banned compounds show up in the lab tests of their products.

Local Police Recieve Grant To Buy New Audio & Video Equipment

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Local police are planning to spend a $29,000 grant on new audio and video recording equipment. The Monroe County Commission accepted the County’s portion of the funding at a meeting May 30.

County attorney Jeff Cockerill said the money would be split between the County Sheriff’s Department and the Bloomington Police Department.

“This fund is to prevent violent crime,” Cockerill says. “The city will use their portion to install audio and video equipment in their  interview rooms and the county will use its portion to continue the in-car video system purchases.”

The grant money comes from a federal grant program through the Department of Justice. The Commission voted unanimously to approve the expenditure.

IU Art Museum Director Retires

Adelheid ‘Heidi’ Gealt has announced her retirement as the IU Art Museum Director. Gealt has been director since 1987.

Bruce Cole, Professor Emeritus of Art History and Comparative Literature has been assigned chair of a search committee to recruit a new director.

The new successor will be responsible for upholding the mission of the IU Art Museum to advance the academic goals of IU and enrich the cultural lives of society by preserving and researching original works of art.

A committee of 10 faculty members are interviewing candidates and intend to hire a new director by July 1.

Election Board Struggle With Complex Voter Laws

The Monroe County Election Board struggled with the complexities of election law May 16 as they decided whether to invalidate some ballots cast during the May 6 primary election.

The Board met to consider provisional ballots, which voters cast when poll workers have questions about their eligibility to vote. In one case, County Clerk Linda Robbins said a homeless man voted at the wrong polling place.

William Ellis, a substitute Board member representing the Republican party, said he would like to count the vote. But Ellis said that wasn’t possible because the voter used the wrong ballot, meaning he would have voted in some of the wrong races.

“Being homeless is a hard enough hardship and the vote, if all being equal, I’d be inclined to make this valid,” Ellis says. “It’s hard to prove where you live if you aren’t living anywhere.”

Ellis participated as a Board member even though he plans to run for office in November. Ellis has said he plans to seek the Republican nomination for County Assessor during a caucus this summer.

The Board members were not allowed to look at the provisional ballots they considered. That restriction became an issue when one voter’s paperwork was sealed in an envelope along with the ballot.

The Board voted to rule that ballot invalid. The Board considered some provisional ballots that were cast by voters who did not bring IDs to the polls. Robbins, who opposes the state’s voter ID law, recommended counting one of those ballots.

She said poll workers might not have instructed the voter on how to ensure their vote would be counted after Election Day.

“I do believe the photo ID is a burden for certain individuals,” Robbins says.

Later in the meeting, Robbins said the complex rules for casting provisional ballots are often a source of confusion during elections.

“Filling out a provisional ballot at the polls has been a huge challenge for us,” Robbins says. “It’s very confusing for everybody. Frankly, I’ll commend anybody that has the patience to stay there and must really want to vote to go through that process.”

The Board voted to invalidate two provisional ballots cast at retirement homes. The voters had been registered to vote at previous residences.

Community Concerned With I-69 Sediment Erosion

A contractor helping supervise I-69 construction insisted May 9 contractors are doing all they can to prevent pollution from the project. In a presentation to the Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Committee, Jeremy Kieffner outlined the various strategies contractors use to prevent erosion. Over the past year waterways near Section 4 of the new interstate have been contaminated with sediments washing away from construction areas.

Kieffner works for the Evansville-based firm, Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates. He told the group road projects always present erosion issues.

Kieffner did not directly address the erosion issues caused by Interstate 69 and he didn’t take questions from the Committee. After the presentation several committee members said they had doubts the state is following proper procedures with the construction. Committee member Andy Ruff has been a long-time opponent of I-69.

“I worked in battling sediment erosion with construction sites and it’s not an easy law to enforce or follow,” Ruff says.

Ruff said the sediment is probably damaging ecosystems in the waterways near Indian Creek, where some of the most contamination has occurred. Committee member Cheryl Munson, who lives in the Indian Creek area, said problems continue there. Munson said she’s hopeful erosion won’t cause as many problems in Section 5 of the interstate, which runs through Bloomington.

Crews have already begun clearing properties in Section 5 in preparation for construction of the interstate.

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