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Yellowwood Lake Road resident wants promise of input kept
Updated on: 11.18.13

Charlie Cole wants the Indiana Department of Transportation to keep its promise about accepting input from residents near Yellowwood Lake.

INDOT, through an agreement with Brown County and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, intends to spend roughly $6 million to install a larger bridge over Salt Creek and apply a chip-and-seal surface to a majority of the 6.5-mile stretch of Yellowwood and Yellowwood Lake roads. Parts of them are now gravel.

“I want the input that was promised to everybody, and this is about input. This is not necessarily telling them what to do,” said Cole, who for 30 years has lived on one of the roads being prepped for upgrades.

The plan is to use mostly the existing road path for 4.2 miles of the road. The remaining 2.3 miles will be widened and raised several feet to make way for bigger culverts to reduce flooding, and to accommodate recreational vehicles and trailers.

The stated purpose of the project is to improve access from State Road 45 via Lanam Ridge Road and State Road 46 to Yellowwood State Forest -- more specifically, the 133-acre lake and campgrounds.

In response to Cole’s desire to be involved, Will Wingfield of INDOT’s media relations department said public input and involvement is a key part of INDOT’s decision-making process, but time must be considered.

“Eventually, decisions must be made to keep a project on schedule and budget, so it’s crucial that we receive input as early as possible in the project development,” Wingfield stated. “We balance the input and needs of all the different stakeholders, including DNR, which is this project’s owner and requested that the work be done.”

INDOT conducted a public hearing in July to present information about the project and receive input.

Nick Batta, a project engineer for Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates Inc. in Indianapolis, said last week that the design firm hired by INDOT was still processing comments from the 30 or so people who attended the hearing.

He said they are exploring the possibility of making changes based on that input.

An INDOT letter distributed at the hearing listed an Aug. 5 deadline for submitting comments, but Wingfield said limited time does remain.

“Once a formal public comment period ends, the public may contact INDOT customer service, which will forward the information to appropriate members of the project team,” he said.

For Brown County, the phone number to call is (877) 305-7611 or secommunications@indot.IN.gov.

Specific concerns

Private landowners' property will need to be acquired at the north end of Yellowwood Lake Road. INDOT plans to reroute a portion of the road to the west of Jackson Creek in order to fix erosion that pours sediment into Yellowwood Lake.

Cole fears possible destruction of the valley by straying from the original road. He wants a road compatible with the creek, and any construction accomplished with the least amount of damage possible.

As evidenced by the numerous wooden stakes dotting the forest west of Jackson Creek, a swath of trees will need to be removed.

Wingfield said INDOT wants to limit tree removal. “We’re trying to stay as close to the alignment of the existing road as possible to minimize the number of trees that need to be removed,” he said.

For about two months, Hoosier Drilling Contractors of Madison has been drilling for soil samples as part of an information-gathering process for Bernardin, Lochmueller & Associates Inc.

Wingfield said the samples will determine the stability of the area to support retaining walls and the road bed, and minimize damage to archaeological, historical or environmental resources. The work will continue this fall and winter as the weather allows, he said.

Cole, who estimates he will lose about four acres of land, received notice of the soil boring work, but said he was not aware the work would require heavy equipment to clear land and enter the creek on his property. He expressed concern about the soil left exposed to the forces that cause erosion.

Wingfield said Indiana law entitles property owners the right to be compensated for damage that occurs as a result of entry upon, over or under their property, or work performed during entry.

“It is INDOT’s sincere desire to cause as little inconvenience as possible during surveys and investigations that are permitted by law,” Wingfield said.

In addition to a chance for input, Cole called for more transparency from INDOT about changes designers make to the project. He said his inquires have gone without response from INDOT.

County's response

Cole has support from at least one county official. Commissioner Dave Anderson is one of three people with the power to possibly alter INDOT’s proposed project -- which is funded by the state, but not popular with Yellowwood area residents.

Anderson said Cole and other property owners along Yellowwood and Yellowwood Lake roads want a meeting with project leaders.

“They deserved to be listened to by both the commissioners, as well as the state -- DNR and INDOT. I think they at least need to be heard,” Anderson said.

Neither Anderson, nor his fellow commissioners, John Kennard and Joe Wray, attended the public hearing in July.

The commissioners did receive an offer from INDOT Project Manager Bill Read to scale back the extent of chip-and-sealing. But they declined that offer, saying residents' fear of additional traffic on the improved road did not justify such a change.

Anderson has since met with Cole and at least one other impacted property owner. Those folks want their questions answered, and Anderson said he will attempt to set up a meeting for that purpose.

“We can’t just stick our head in the sand on it, and jump into it without knowing what the ramifications are going to be,” Anderson said.

Wray said since September, when commissioners promised to reconsider altering the road project, he learned that INDOT intends to upgrade the roads and he knows of nothing to stop the project. He supports the project as proposed.

Kennard, the commissioners president and representative of the district where the road project is located, reported Nov. 15 that he intended to meet with INDOT leaders to discuss the project on Monday, Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. at the County Office Building. 

"We have not agreed to anything," Kennard said. He said he'd also been contacted about work being done in the project area and wanted to address those concerns. 

Wingfield said a variety of crews may be in the area next spring to set stakes and take measurements to determine what land would need to be purchased.

-- Kevin Lilly, Brown County Democrat

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