Commissioners, project leaders applauded for listening

To the editor:

I have been involved since 2007 in a continuous effort to get public input (free advice from all stakeholders) incorporated into planning processes governing future use of Indiana’s public resources. My particular focus has been on Yellowwood State Forest, where Brown Countians recently have taken back some control over our destiny.

We have, through community organization, cooperative efforts and issue education, re-asserted our right to seek redress from our Indiana state government. We have educated large numbers of citizen voters (several hundreds to date) concerned with current state forest property management issues.

Supported by the efforts of the Brown County League of Women Voters, current commissioners Diana Biddle, Dave Anderson and Joe Wray have delivered on Yellowwood Road public input promises previously made but ignored by current DNR forestry decision-makers. Also, the commissioners have been able to eke out a little positive change and rescue a smidgen of goodwill from an intolerable situation by providing a “walk through” with INDOT engineers and local residents together to (1.) hear the concerns of landowners, and (2.) ensure that all common local concerns were being noted by road engineers.

Despite continual resistance from current DNR Forestry administrators to public input, Lochmueller Group consulting engineer Nick Batta and local INDOT project manager Greg Prince have worked earnestly with local officials and affected landowners to produce small, but positive tweaks in the footprint of the Yellowwood Lake Road project in response to feedback about concerns unique to Brown County.

The Cagle homestead was left basically intact.

Some wetland mitigation efforts to be used in the upper watershed will now showcase some state-of-the-art techniques not previously used.

As it stands now, the road will not be paved north of the lake, which will improve winter access and multi-use safety issues.

The utilities corridor in the upper new terrain route will follow the new road footprint and be buried by our partners at South-Central Indiana REMC and AT&T.

The two engineers can take pride in their efforts at Yellowwood, as they have modeled a friendlier, more inclusive way of doing business for INDOT.

The project could be much better, considering the irreversible waste of money, time and quality already caused by the unnecessarily belated, forced injection of public input into the closed DNR Forestry planning process.

It could have been much, much worse. Our commissioners have been the only public officials at any level to encourage local input on this road issue. It is the time for us to let our commissioners know that we appreciate their efforts.

They also need backing from stakeholders that any improvements to both the new terrain and current road should model and reflect the character and scale of the old road and landscape. (This stipulation absolutely must be included in bid specs.) Almost all stakeholders, except for the current DNR Division of Forestry brass, have by now engaged and become entwined in the extraordinary, continuous history of past efforts by stakeholders of all different stripes uniting in cooperative efforts to help Yellowwood State Forest remain a special place.

Folks, contact our commissioners now, so that they can demonstrate by our numbers to state-level officials our unwavering support for local input, inclusive planning and an appropriately benign touch to all new road “improvements” planned for scenic Brown County (Brown County Commissioners, 201 Locust Lane, Nashville, IN 47448).

As far as Yellowwood Lake Road goes, I am still worried about what I see as a potentially unnecessarily large-scale construction footprint in the small watershed valley north of the two creek fords.

Thanks also to Mike Magner and his highway crew for their dedication to our safety and welfare. More kudos to the Brown County Democrat staff for fair coverage of this and related public input issues.

Charlie Cole, Yellowwood State Forest

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