This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Ribbon cuttings and more

On Wednesday Wagner Lumber and Supply had a ribbon cutting. The business was Woods Lumber and Seeds until late May when it was sold. It is located immediately north of the railroad tracks on McKinley Street.
 Dollar Tree had its ribbon cutting on Tuesday but I had another commitment so could not attend. The Rensselaer Republican posted a picture on Facebook.

One of the people at the Wagner Lumber ribbon cutting works at Fair Oaks Farms and she had some brochures about the new Winfield Crop Adventure. I said that they had not had the big opening ceremony for that one that they have had for some of the other new attractions. She told me that in fact they had had a big ceremony, but it was not geared for the local audience. The Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, had attended as had other people important in agriculture. The event was by invitation only. Searching the Internet, I found a several places that reported on it, including here and here.

Speaking of crops, there is now a wide assortment of veggies at the Farmers Market.
 Tuesday night was Kids Night at the Farmers Market. In the distance below you can see Franciscan Alliance, which was checking bike helmets and giving some away. IBEC had a booth next to them and was giving kids balloons, many of which soon departed for the stratosphere. On the left is the table of ConAgra, which gave away pudding and popcorn. I asked if they produced the pudding locally and was told that the local plant only processes popcorn.
 The recent rains have saturated some soils. In my plot at the community garden the carrots are rotting because of the saturated soil and the cabbages look like they may be dying as well. More rain is in the forecast and we do not need it.

 The recent rains have delayed work on the high water treatment plant. The pits were flooded and apparently they were pumped out by trucks such as the one above.
Early this week highway crews lined or painted US 231. I assume that means the work is finished. Big Dog announced that it will no longer be renting tools, party supply, and equipment to the general public.

Work on Halas Hall seems to be almost finished. I think this is the final look. Gallagher Hall still has a lot of work remaining.
Below is a follow-up picture of the fire at Rich's Cycle Solutions. This truck was in the building when the building burned. There is a dumpster on site and much of the debris has been placed in it.

I noticed this tree at the Fair Grounds last week. I am not sure exactly what it is, but it is some sort of chestnut.
There are efforts to bring back the chestnut. One approach has been to cross the American Chestnut with European or Asian chestnut to get the genes necessary to defeat the fungus and then continue crossbreeding to try to get the maximum amount of American Chestnut DNA. The other approach is the GMO approach, to take a gene from another species that will give the tree protection from the fungus.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Planning Commission meeting, July 25, 2016

The meeting of the Jasper County Planning Commission was unusually long and contentious on Monday evening. The first item on the agenda, a zoning change to allow a couple to put a second house on a rural property, passed with little discussion. Not so the second item, a request to rezone a property a few hundred yards north the intersection of SR 14 and US 231 from commercial business to agricultural. The owner had bought the property in June and intended to raise hogs on it, though it is a small, narrow lot, only 9.9 acres. The lot has a building on the west end near the highway that was for many years, and no one knew how many, used as a hog market or transfer. Since the lot had been used for hogs for many years and because it was adjacent to farm lots, the owner assumed that he could raise hogs there. He wanted to have about 180 gilts and ten boars on the property, and when the gilts had a litter, they would stay in the existing building until the piglets were weaned and sent to other farms.

However, after he purchased the property he discovered that it was zoned commercial-business. Apparently it had been zoned business in 1971 or 1972 and that designation allowed for agricultural uses.  When the zoning ordinances changed and that business zoning classification was eliminated, it was made commercial business and apparently that classification does not allow agriculture or maybe just animals.

There were a couple of people in the audience who opposed the change because they did not want hogs on the property. One member of the Commission suggested that the property should be zoned commercial because it is near the intersection of two highways and there are two or three businesses nearby. Eventually the Commission decided to delay a decision for a month to talk to their lawyer and get more info. They noted that if the land is zoned agricultural, the maximum number of pigs the owner can have on the land is 99 because there is an ordinance that say that non-confined pigs cannot exceed ten to an acre. Along with the delay in considering the matter, they gave him permission to keep pigs on the property until they decide the issue.

The third item was a proposal to change zoning of property in Wheatfield Township from residential to agricultural. The land in question was a sand ridge that had been zoned residential because someone planned a subdivision on the property and that subdivision never happened. After zoning was changed to agricultural, the owner intended to apply for a special exception from the Board of Zoning Appeals to mine the sand, that is, he proposed leveling the sand ridge and selling the sand. After the sand ridge was removed, he would farm the land. He had come to the Commission because he had moved some sand to help a neighbor and had been given a cease and desist order.

This proposed zoning change attracted a lot of opposition, with most if it centered on the archeology of the area. Much of Jasper and Newton Counties was once marsh land that teemed with wildlife. The American Indians of the area hunted the wildlife and made their settlements on the high points, the sand ridges. This is well known to those who hunt Indian artifacts. The party requesting the change had approval from the Army Corp of Engineers which protects wetlands but did not have an archeological survey which protects sites of archeological interest. A member of the audience who at one time owned the property told the Commission that the ridge was full of arrowheads and other artifacts. The Commission decided to delay decision until the September meeting, giving the petitioner time to find or do an archeological survey. (You can see the property on the Jasper County GIS site by searching for Prairie Creek Ag Lands.)

The last item on the agenda was an amendment to the flood plain codes of Jasper County, but after almost two hours of meeting, the members decided to table the discussion for a future meeting. After the Commission adjourned, the Board of Zoning Appeal met. The only item on the agenda was a special exception for sand mining, but since the zoning had not changed, they could not act on the matter, so they moved the item to the September meeting. 

And now for something completely different. You might remember from biology that a lichen is the symbiosis of a fungus and an alga. That understanding of lichen, which has been around for 150 years, is incorrect. Read about what a lichen really is here.

I need a picture, so here is a happy one. Gas prices in town are again below $2.00 a gallon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

City Council July 25, 2016

The most interesting items from Monday’s City Council meeting were not on the agenda.

The meeting began with an approval of a street closing: Susan Street next to St. Augustine’s School for the Fall Frolic on Sept 17. Later in the meeting the Council approved another road closure, Angelica between Weston and Cullen for some kind of lunch on August 28 from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm.

Project Manager Jerry Lockridge gave a list of street improvements that will be included in a grant applications to the State. The total cost is a bit more than $853,000 and if the all applications are funded, one half would be picked up by the State. (County officials have been busy working on a similar grant for County roads, but they are hoping for a million dollars in matching funds.) There was a reporter from the Lafayette Journal and Courier and after the meeting he sat down with Mr Lockridge for more info. He is apparently working on a story of how counties and cities are approaching this grant opportunity.

The Council approved purchasing MS Office software for the new laptops that the Council members have. The cost is about $1400 and will be paid by the four city utilities.

In Administrative comments, the mayor reported that he had been in contact with INDOT about their abandoned site that is in the north part of town (bounded by Scott, Oak, Webster, and Maple Streets). There are still few things that have to be worked out but it seems likely that the property may soon be handed over to the city.

Below is a picture of the property. It has almost a square block of pavement and three old buildings that are falling apart.
The City’s payment for Hoosier State rail service will be larger by $93.63 each month. The service is subsidized by the cities along the route and the State of Indiana.

A question was asked about the status of the appraisal of the SJC land on which the water well was drilled. The City thought they had an agreement in which they would buy the land if the well came in to desired specifications, but SJC decided that they wanted another appraisal. It seems highly likely that the delays will make it impossible for the City to apply for an OCRA grant that would have paid about half of the cost of running the water main from the well to the city treatment plant. (I recall when the new president of SJC came into office, there was a promise of better town-gown relations. That possibility is now gone. This incident has created a lot of ill-will.)

The police department is still looking at ways the old fire station can be used. Trace Bowles, manager of operations for the electric utility, reported on the IMPA meeting he and the mayor attended. The city is not allowed to generate power for the community. It is under contract to purchase 100% of its power from IMPA. When it generates, it sells the power to IMPA at the contracted price. The power plant has been generating for most of July.

The gas department will have its roof inspected. It has some leaks. The High Rate Treatment Plant has had some flooding problems with recent rains. Construction of the control building continues.

Comfort Suites has been open for about a month and is doing well. The other motels do not notice declines in business, so the market seems to have expanded. (People like to get off the Interstate when there are choices, so this is not too surprising.) Jasper the Bison will be at Rock the Arts on Saturday. (Monday’s Rensselaer Republican had two good articles about our bison.)

In an unrelated topic, earlier this month NICHES showed a video about their biggest Jasper County property, the Fisher Oak Savannah. It is now on-line and can be viewed here. Below is an attempt to embed it in this post.

Monday, July 25, 2016


The Fendig Gallery at the Carnegie Center has a new art exhibit that will run through Sept 9. Called "Cycles", it features art from four artists with connections to Rensselaer. You can read about the artists on the Prairie Art Council's website, here.

The reception for the exhibit was held on July 22 and had a large crowd.
 Many of the works on display are sculptures or ceramics. This large face greets visitors as they enter the gallery.
 If you go around the back, you see this.
 This would probably scare some of my grandkids.
This painting is titled, "After Birth Earth".
 This teapot is an upside down bird. One person suggested that it was a pelican. I objected that pelicans have webbed feet, so it could be a hummingbird. She was not persuaded.
Notice the table for the display. It and a number of other tables were specially made for this exhibit.

It is a fun exhibit, so check it out. The gallery is open from noon until 2:00 pm Monday through Friday.

PS: Rock The Arts festival is coming this week. The web page for the event, here, has video clips of all the musical groups that will be performing.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

End of a busy week

I made only two visits the the fair this year--it was hot and I had other things keeping me occupied.
This old road grader did not have any signs indicating how old it was. It may have been one of the older things on display in the Retired Iron barn.
 These old corn shellers on display in the Retired Iron barn were also very old. I was told that kids enjoyed them.
 Traveling on SR 114, I stopped to take a picture of the memorial to the Hanging Grove School that is under construction. It expected something a little smaller.
Rich's Cycle Solutions burned this week. The Thursday's Rensselaer Republican had details.
 The control building for the storm water treatment plant is getting walls. Lincoln Street is completely blocked with construction material.
 Part of the plant will be circular and the rebar for that part is on site.
 On Saturday TV Cable had a customer appreciation day. During it, Ted Filson, who founded the company was given a posthumous Sagamore of the Wabash award. It was accepted by his widow and son.
Recently the company changed the menu of options and some people at the event were updating what they were getting.

For several days this past week crop dusters were flying in and out of the airport, buzzing the town. They have moved on.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The travels of Jasper

On July 19 the Commissioners met for a second time during the month in a meeting continued from their July 5 meeting. The primary purpose of the meeting was to prepare grant submissions to the State for road repairs. The consultant was late because of traffic, so they heard an update on Bicentennial preparations.

The most interesting bit of that discussion was the news that Jasper, the county bison, will not be able to attend the Touch of Dutch festival. He will be vacationing at the Indiana State Fair. The State Fair will have a display of 50 county bison and the bison are not allowed to leave the grounds during their stay. The thought was that this would expose Jasper County to a lot of people and because Jasper is impressively decorated, he might have a chance to win one of the two awards given, on by the panel of judges and the other the people’s choice award.
The bicentennial  group would like to buy some large flower pots to decorate the Court House steps and to paint some green benches blue. There was also some discussion of buying a trailer to transport the bison.

The grant application for roads will probably be submitted next week. Kevin Kelly, head of Jasper County Economic Development Organization, is trying to round up letters of support for the various projects--they add weight to the applications. One comment that I thought interesting is that now that the state has gotten the counties to inventory and rate their roads, they will be better able to micromanage what the counties are doing with maintenance.

The county fair came to Rensselaer on Tuesday night with the annual Retired Iron parade to the farmers market. This year the route went down Jackson Street because Lincoln is closed for construction of the storm water treatment plant.
I recently posted some pictures of the remodeling of Halas and Gallagher Halls at SJC. Below are two that show many of the stages of work. On the left below are the original facades, and then to the right give different stages of work.

Two additional stages are shown on Halas, which is further along in the remodeling.
I also posted a picture of work on a state-highway building. It is now getting is covering replaced.
The city has been doing line work on the utility poles. Below three bucket trucks are being used to replace a pole.
The Rensselaer Urban Forestry Council has planted trees along Angelica Street.

Monday, July 18, 2016

At the fair

The 2016 edition of the Jasper County Fair has arrived. On Sunday evening  the fairground received only light sprinkles of rain but those paying attention saw a beautiful rainbow as the rain retreated to the east.
 I was impressed with the decoration of the Jasper County buffalo. There was a lot of thought given to what should be on it and those painting it did a great job.
 One side featured some of the most recognizable landmarks of the county.
 The decoration was a collaborative effort.
 The Sunday free stage featured the band Nightshift.
 Also on Sunday, the Volunteer Fair sponsored by the Jasper Foundation occupied the Commercial Building.
 Earlier on Sunday I wanted to see what progress was being made on the National Gypsum addition. Nothing was above ground, though it seemed stone had been spread in preparation for a concrete slab. However, there was activity on the skeleton of the big building at the state highway department. This building usually has what appears to be a fabric or plastic exterior. There were workers doing something to the frame, but I could not tell what it was.
We got a lot of rain Sunday night and Monday morning. My rain gage had over three inches, though that included some from Sunday morning.
The rain flooded one of the pits at the construction site of the storm water plant. It must have some storm sewers that dump into it. The second pit did not have the water.
It is a bit hard to see the water through the fence. The "No Trespassing" signs are new--they went up late last week.

A lot of new building materials were being delivered to the site on Monday morning, though some may not be usable until the pit is drained.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Odds and Ends, July 16, 2016

CTS Tire is having an open house this morning (Saturday). It was bigger than I expected, with part of Front Street closed off.
 It may be a bad day to need tire repairs.
 There was an Indy race car with "Do Not Touch" signs on it. However, you could drive a race car simulator. I tried it and found that I most definitely am not ready for the race circuit.
 The kids can enjoy a bounce house.
There are also drawings for a variety of things, from tires to tee shirts.

I saw a horde of middle school runners this week. Coach Yeager said that he has 43 kids in his summer running group.

I mentioned in an update to the last post that the bowling alley has reopened with the old ownership but new management.

If you like prairie restoration, there is a small one by the sewer treatment plant west of SJC.

There was also some yellow coneflower and poison ivy. I think this flower is rosinweed.
There is a picnic bench next to restoration. Some of the people will get a view of the flowers.
Those on the other side will see the sewage plant and its nicely maintained lawn.
The corn is tasseling and looking very good.
Back on the SJC campus, on Thursday I passed by when some of the rooms in Gallagher Hall had no outside wall.
The view on Friday showed three steps in the renovation process.
There is a lot of work being done in other parts of the campus to get ready for the school year.

I learned this week that Rock the Arts will have an official pizza.
The patio along the street now has benches.
Work starts early at the construction site of the storm water treatment plant along Lincoln Street. On Thursday rebar and forms had been put in place in the eastern pit.
Concrete was poured on Friday morning using the apparatus below. I missed the actual pour but probably would not have been able to see much without getting in the way of workers.
Jackhammering in the western pit continues. The large excavator is completely below ground level.

The County Fair officially opens today (Saturday) but much fair activity has already happened. On Friday the dog judging was done--the dogs do not mix well with some of the other animals so they get a special day. The non-livestock 4-H projects have been judged, and the Fair Queen has been selected and crowned. 

At the fair, the Volunteer Fair will be on Sunday from 4:00 to 7:00 in the Commercial Building and there will be a free health on Monday morning.