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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mostly about wind farms (Updated)

For years I have found long metal rods on city streets. I had no idea of what they were until I asked my son and for some reason he knew. Have you ever seen these rods on the streets and do you know what thy are? (If no one gives a correct answer in the comments, I will eventually update the post with the answer.)
After the City Council meeting on Monday night, the Jasper County BZA and Planning Commission met. The most interesting bit from these meetings was from the Planning Commission meeting, which was updating the section of Unified Development Ordinance for wind farms. They took out some height restrictions because apparently they are obsolete and replaced them with language that says the turbines must meet FAA height regulations. They also changed some distances in the ordinance from specific numbers to distances based on the height of the turbines, so higher turbines must be further from other structures than shorter turbines. The changes make Jasper County's rules more like those of Benton and White Counties.

Being zoned for wind farms does not change the underlying zoning--it must be A1 or A2. The wind farm zoning is then put on top of that. What was most interesting about the discussion was that representatives of two wind farm companies attended the meeting and were happy to answer questions. They said that Jasper County has good wind and that the various adverse impacts are best treated with proper siting. The leases that they sign with farmers run for 25 years. About one to one and a half acres of farm land are taken out of production for each tower. There were concerns about drainage tiles and damage to roads, and these are covered in the leases and the permits needed to construct a wind farm. If a tower is demolished, the company will remove the pad to four feet below the surface. There are 400 to 500 cubic yards of concrete for each turbine.

Developing a wind farm is a lengthy process that takes years. One of the company representatives said that he has been working on a wind farm in North Dakota for eleven years and it is still not under construction. Other than the regulatory hurdles, the hardest part is getting enough leases signed. Small wind farms have problems marketing their power that larger wind farms do not have and the fixed costs of transmission lines are spread over fewer turbines. If wind farms come to Jasper County, they will not be built for several years.

The Planning Commission moved to send the changes to the Commissioners, who will have the item on their December agenda.

The other meeting was the BZA meeting. Taking up an hour of time was discussion of a sand-mining proposal on a property adjacent to Jasper-Pulaski Preserve. The gentleman making the request would like to dig two ponds and to do so wants to be able to sell the sand to contractors as they need it. DNR and Nature Conservancy have land to the north and east and have no problems with this proposal, but property owners to the west and south had concerns about what it would to to the water levels and whether it would attract geese that might injure crops. The BZA eventually tabled the item until their December 20th meeting (held on a Wednesday, not a Monday).

The other agenda item was for a set-back variance. A gentleman wanted to sell a house and found that because of mistakes in the past, the house had been built seven feet too close to the property line. For some reason the mortgage company of a potential buyer would not issue a mortgage because of the violation. The BZA granted the variance.

Update: The second commenter knew what they were, but did not explain the source for those who do not know that these bits of metal are street sweeper bristles. The brushes used on the City street sweepers have metal bristles that sometimes break off. If you do an Internet search for metal street sweeper bristles, you will find that the most commonly mentioned use of them is to make lock-picking tools.

Rensselaer recently bought a new street sweeper and I have found some plastic bristles recently. I asked about that and was told that one of the brushes on the new sweeper has plastic bristles, but the side brushes still have metal teeth.

And if you doubt my word, here is the question asked and answered in the Chicago Tribune.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Final auction, new police chief, and a few other tidbits

Last Friday and Saturday SJC had the final sale of furnishings that they were getting rid of.  On Friday two auctioneers sold simultaneously and on Saturday only one was needed.
 I was enjoying the holiday so I missed the sale. I did stop in shortly after the end and people were hauling out their purchases. Talking to one buyer, I found that the final sale was for all the stuff that had not been sold. (Sometimes no one will bid on a lot.) The remainders, and I assume there were quite a few, sold for $10. So everything sold.
On Monday evening the Rensselaer City Council met. The big item on the agenda was the announcement of the new chief of police. Jeff Phillips is retiring at the end of the year, hence a new chief is needed. After interviews, the Mayor and Chief Phillips selected Matthew Anderson, whose current rank is Lieutenant and who has been with the department for 19 years. He will assume office on January 1, 2018. The Rensselaer Republican has a full report and there are some other pictures here.

In other business, the Council accepted a recommendation to grant the construction contract for well #8 and the connection of the well to the water treatment plant to LGS, which had the low bid of $1,016,360. Supply bids for unleaded gas and diesel were awarded to Ceres Solution and for tires to Wonderland Tires, formerly known as Cooper Tires. The Council approved the purchase of a new forklift for about $25K by the gas department. The old one has little value and will not start. The Council waived the building permit for the new police station (the old fire house). Some demolition may start soon on the site.  The Watt substation on Bunkum Road still has some minor things that have to be done but it is scheduled to go into service during the week of December 18.

The entire meeting lasted about half an hour.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Have a nice Thanksgiving

The Christmas decorations were going up in downtown Rensselaer on Monday.
Some light poles got wreaths and others banners.
On Tuesday evening the Jasper County Historical Society meeting discussed old county schools. At one time there were dozens of one-room schools scattered throughout the county, and then gradually they were consolidated. A display of things from the Fair Oaks School was striking. It closed in the 1960s.
I only stayed for the beginning of the meeting and then left to go to the County Council meeting. The most interesting thing on the agenda was a presentation from Indian Trails Career Cooperative. I had never heard of this organization. It is headquartered in Monticello and serves ten area school corporations, supporting their career and technical education programs. The schools it aids are in White, Jasper, Carroll, Newton, and Pulaski Counties. The presentation was to inform the Council that Indian Trails wanted to apply for a grant that would have a three-to-one match, that is, for every dollar raised locally, the State would provide three dollars. The head of Indian Trails was approaching the five counties asking for $100,000 from each as seed money, which would provide a grant of $1,500,000. He had talked to area employers about what skills seemed most important in the area and had decided to focus on health care and welding. He noted that though no community had a great deal of manufacturing, the total in the five counties was substantial. In addition, many area businesses have large numbers of baby boomers who will be retiring in the next ten or fifteen years and it is unclear who will replace them. As a result, he said, the idea of offering internships to high school students has become something that they would entertain.

The Councilmen for the north part of the county seemed unimpressed because the KV school system is not in the Indian Trails network, having allied with schools from Lake and Porter. One Council member suggested that it was not just technical skill that was lacking but work ethic--the understanding that showing up was necessary.

The presentation will be repeated for the County Commissioners on Dec 4 and their decision will probably decide whether Jasper County agrees to cooperate.

In other business, the members of the Council personally donated $650 to the Vietnam Wall display that will be coming to Brookside Park next year. They approved an additional appropriation of $5000 to pay for part-time help with Court House security--a variety of things like additional jury trials, security needs at SJC and festivals had used the money in the budget. He also commented that increased health insurance costs will cut the real pay of his employees and may cause some to seek other opportunities.

A discussion of an additional appropriation for legal research made by the Court led to a discussion of the status of the current vacancy in one court. Apparently interviews were conducted in August but the decision of whom to appoint, which will be made in Indianapolis with little or no local input, has still not been made.

The last item on the agenda was an addition to the payment to the building inspector. She has been doing more inspections than anticipated. Apparently house construction is booming in the northern part of the county.

In a related item, I got this letter in an e-mail that Jasper County Airport sent out on Tuesday: "All 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th graders at Jasper, White, Pulaski, Newton, and Carroll counties will take a survey to gauge interest in entering an aviation program through school. If enough interest exists, Jasper County Airport will work with Indian Trails Vocational Cooperative to bring aviation management, maintenance, and flight programs to local high schools within those counties for the 2018-19 school year."

Friday, November 17, 2017

It is open

On Friday the Washington Street bridge opened after a ribbon cutting ceremony. The Rensselaer Republican has the names of the people in the picture.
 A few minutes after the ribbon cutting a truck arrived to pick up the road-closed signs.
 When the County Commissioners allowed the construction company to use the lot next to the post office for equipment staging, they asked the company to tear up the concrete pad when they were finished. The demolition of the pad has begun.

In other construction news, the Salyer apartments on Elza Street are now being rented. Sayler rentals posted video guided tours of a unit that can be found on its facebook page. In Newton County work has begun on water and sewer infrastructure for the Fair Oaks Farms. There was a ceremonial groundbreaking earlier this week. See here and here.

The Fendig Gallery of the Carnegie Center has a new exhibit of two Lafayette watercolorists. The picture below is titled "Connected or Disconnected?".
The one below it called "Small Egrets."
The show runs through December 29.

In addition to the bids mentioned in the last post, the City Council meeting on Monday took up a wide variety of items. It approved a proposal to issue to police officers their duty weapons after serving twenty years. It made some changes in funding sources to pay elected officials; the state auditors did not like the current practice. There was a small decrease in the gas tracker. Discussion of the future of the INDOT property on Maple Street is ongoing. The State wants to sell the property to the City for its assessed valuation. The City is concerned about future pollution issues because the property once had gas tanks that leaked. To insure against any damages would cost $5000 per year.

The Council approved the Cemetery's request to trade in a mower and purchase a new one. The City will have the Christmas holiday on Tuesday after Christmas rather than Friday before. The second December Council meeting will be Wednesday, Dec 27 at 6:00. The City granted $250 to the American Legion for its annual Thanksgiving Dinner that is open to all. The City Attorney noted that opioid litigation that the Council had agreed to join could possibly cost the City. If the settlement were in services or goods, the law firm bringing the case would want compensation based on the value of those goods and services. Finally, the utility office noted that its insertion machine used to send out bills has never functioned well and wanted a committee to explore options.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

News from SJC, the bridge, and City Council

Saint Joseph's College is back in the news. The Board of Trustees is being reorganized, with all the lay members quitting and three new lay members being added. Also, an entity called Fulcrum Strategic Group said that it offered the College $27 million for the campus and never got a serious response. See more here, here, and here.

The Washington Street bridge is scheduled to open Friday or perhaps Thursday. On Monday the approaches were paved and most of the railing was put into place. Here is the not-completed east side as of Monday afternoon.
 The west side was finished. It does not have the look that I expected it to have.
I asked one of the workers what still had to be done. He said that the roadway had to be sealed and the traffic lines painted.

The City Council met on Monday evening and much of the agenda was about bids. At the previous meeting bids had been opened for the street program and for a new street sweeper and those bids were given to a committee for a recommendation. The committee recommended accepting the paving bid from Walsh and Kelley for $862,196.23 even though it was about $300 above the low bid. The company did the work on Grace Street earlier this year and the City was very satisfied with their work. Two of the bids for the street sweeper did not meet all the specifications. The committee recommended and the Council accepted a bid from Brown Equipment for $195K.

Then bids were opened for connecting Well #8 (on Sparling Avenue) to the treatment plant. There were four bids ranging from $1,016,363 to $1,438,733.60. They will be evaluated by a committee and a recommendation given at the next meeting. The Electric Utility had two bids for a new bucket truck and their recommendation was to go with the one costing $213,771. The truck will not go into service until next year and financing and how to sell the existing truck are still not determined. (Tree removal companies purchase many of these used trucks.)

Finally supply bids for gasoline, diesel, and tires were opened. One of the bids no one understood. They will be evaluated and a recommendation made at the next meeting.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Busy Veterans Day weekend

The cold south wind made the flags put out for Veterans Day along Bunkum Road display nicely.
The crowd at the ceremony was bundled up and, because it was cold, the speakers kept the program short.
 After the ceremony, some of the people stopped by Flat Iron Park for a dedication of the new flag pole. Flat Iron Park was established to commemorate those who served during WWI.
Veterans Day was originally Armistice Day, celebrating the end of hostilities in WWI on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. After WWII the U.S. changed the name to Veterans Day to honor those who fought in all the wars.

 I can find six people buried in the local cemeteries who died in service during WWI, though none of them died in combat. In Weston are Lonnie Davisson, John Knox, George Gratner, and Dewey Biggs for whom the Rensselaer American Legion is named. In Mount Calvary are John Stein and Clarence Messman. Are there more?

To the east of Mount Calvary Cemetery, work is being done to move the gas pipeline to the east. Next year this bit of highway is scheduled to be moved a bit to the east as well so that the intersection with Mt Calvary Road will be less dangerous.
 The entrance to the cemetery was originally on the east. I suspect that the hill was partially cut away to make way for the highway.

We have had some very cold nights with temperatures dipping into the low 20s. Late on Friday morning the fountain at SJC still had ice on it.
 Despite the very cold weather, there were lots of blossoms on the decorative crab apple trees around the pond. These late blooms are apparently caused by a drought in the summer followed by moisture in the fall.
 The Prairie Arts Council had its annual gift sale over the weekend and there was another craft/gift sale at the Fairground called Mistletoe Magic. A number of Rensselaer businesses have had or are having open houses and special sales.  On Thursday St. Augustine Parish had its annual Bazaar. In its early years the Bazaar would raffle off live turkeys and older people remember that. I doubt if anyone is old enough to remember a festival that came before the Bazaar, the annual fête champêtre. Apparently the typesetters did not have an e-circumflex in their type drawer.
And they probably did not have  é è ë ē ĕ ė ę ě either. Aren't you glad we do not have to deal with graves, acutes, circumflexes, umlauts or diereses, macrons, breves, dot accents, ogoneks, carons, not to mention tildes, slashes, and various other weird accent characters? They are all used in various European languages.

Update: Another man who died in service during WWI is William Caster in Crockett Cemetery.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Miscellany 11/09/2017

Next week the Washington Street bridge is scheduled to reopen. I think the last of the concrete has been poured but the paving at the ends of the bridge still has not been done. That is probably the last major item left. On Thursday workers were removing the ramps on the outside of the bridge that they had been using for access.
 I will miss my daily visit to see the changes.

Reflections had its official ribbon cutting on Thursday. The store has been open since early September. It is located next to the alley across Van Rensselaer from the Court House.
 There is a dumpster on Washington Street. I suspect it is for remodeling the building that was Landmark Realty.
 Superior Sales and Service is moving. They are building on North McKinley, south of John Deere. It appears that they are adding onto the existing building that was previously RPJ Truck and Equipment Sales and before that MacAllister Machinery.
 A bit further north the site of Prouty Motor Sales is now empty. The building is for sale or lease and there will be an auction on November 18.
 The street widening on North Elza is finished as is the parking lot for the apartment building there.
A few days ago the classifieds in the Rensselaer Republican had the announcement about Franciscan Hospice Care Rensselaer. It seems that future management of local hospice care will be from Lafayette.

The previous post mentioned three items from the November 2017 Commissioners meeting and promised a follow-up.

There was a public hearing for a reduced speed limit on part of 1200N. The only person who spoke said that if it was as ineffective as the speed limit on Virgie Road, it was not worth doing. The Commissioners approved the reduction.
Soil and Water Conservation has lost one of its employees and in a future meeting the Commissioners will be asked to approve a replacement. Emcor gave the Commissioners handouts about energy savings at the jail and the Commissioners approved the energy savings report that must be submitted to the State. The Commissioners decided to stay with Havel for the jail maintenance contract rather than switching to Honeywell, which has been vying for the contract. Community Corrections reported that new state regulations will require that it add two new positions to be in compliance. Community Corrections will try to fund the positions with a state grant but noted that there are problems with that solution and there will be costs that the County will have to bear. The matter will be discussed further at the December meeting.

Key Benefits gave the Commissioners handouts with several options for health insurance. They decided on Option C, whatever that is. The Commissioners approved contracts with Lake and Porter Counties for juvenile detention on the same terms that were in this year's contract.

Parks for People gave a presentation of what they are trying to do. One item that I had not previously heard is the idea of replacing the kiddie pool at Brookside Park with a splash pad. It is not one of the higher priorities.

(The Parks for People Campaign has announced its naming opportunities. For a mere $150,000 you can name the splash pad. If that is not for you, there are many other things you can name with the proper donation.)

The Health Department said that Franciscan Rensselaer is no longer doing water testing and that future water testing will be done by a company in Valparaiso. The company wanted the Health Department to have a line of credit. The Commissioners approved something that should allow the program to proceed. The new director of JCEDO was introduced and spoke briefly. Planning and Development Office wanted permission to contract with a company so it could take credit card payments. Some other County offices already use this service. The Commissioners would like to delay until they can determine if there are other County departments that might benefit from credit card payments and would like to add them all to one contract. The company that has been working on putting the County ordinances on-line has mostly finished their work and the ordinances are somewhere online, but not connected to the County web page. The Commissioners will need to adopt an ordinance to make the online version official.
A citizen complained that a shooting range was still operating despite a court order that vacated the BZA ruling and he also was concerned with trees and bushes near some county roads that obstructed passage of grain trucks and combines.

The Commissioners then recessed briefly before they reassembled for an executive session.

In the afternoon the Drainage Board met. The first item was a public hearing on cleaning a ditch and its laterals and establishing a maintenance fund that lasted nearly an hour. The reason for much of the discussion was that people at the lower end of the ditch have cooperated with one another to keep the ditch in good shape but people on the upper reaches have not. The levy for the work affects all in the watershed, so those at the upper end will reap greater benefit than those at the lower end, although all are assessed equally per acre. Naturally those at the lower end thought this unfair--they will be subsidizing those at the upper end. This type of conflict is very common in drainage issues.

Another discussion that took some time was a proposal to create two ponds by digging sand. A neighbor to the property objected, saying that the ponds would attract many geese and that they would damage crops.

The other item that I thought interesting was a drainage plan for Feldhouse Ford, which is expanding by adding an additional dealership--I think it was Jeep/Chrysler.

Finally, the Park Board had a very short meeting on Monday evening. Main Street Rensselaer is considering trail head at Potawatomie Park for its 2018 project and wanted to know if the Park Board thought the idea was worth pursuing. The Fall Festival had an unexpectedly large turnout and slaughtered 80 pumpkins. The scheduling of the event at the start of the school fall break seemed to help attendance.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Highlights from the November commissioners meeting

The November Commissions meeting had a long agenda. Here are the highlights.

The Commissioners awarded the ambulance contract for Rensselaer and surrounding area to Prompt. Before they did this, they had questions for Elite, which does most of the ambulance transfers from Franciscan Hospital. The township ambulance services for the northern and southern parts of the county are subsidized based on the rates for the central contract and Prompt's low bid may cause them some problems. The Commissioners are unhappy with the way the current system is structured and will appoint a committee to look at the future of EMS in Jasper County.

EDP Renewables is expanding its Meadow Lake Wind Farm from White County into Benton and wants to use a bit of 1900 South (which is on the border between Jasper and Benton Counties) to move parts next year. They were seeking approval because the heavy loads may cause damage to the roads. As to whether they have plans to expand into Jasper County, they said that they will be looking to see how the zoning ordinances for wind farms are changed at the November 22 27 meeting of the Planning Commission.

KIRPSE and people from Wheatfield Township asked the Commissioners to sponsor their grant application for a new Wheatfield Township fire station. The grant is going to OCRA and only municipalities and counties can make applications. The grant application is for a supplemental round and if it does not get funded, it will be resubmitted for the regular round next year.

Those were the big three. I will try to write about all the minutia in the next post along with a few items from the Drainage Board meeting.

Meanwhile, the maples are very colorful, though perhaps already past their peak.
Work on the bridge is almost finished. More concrete was being poured on Tuesday.
 The pour was for the sidewalk on the east side of the bridge. There is still a bit more concrete needed to finish the sidewalks and one of the sections of the railing.
 Today's pour from the other side of the bridge.
The Yeoman plaque has been put back on and is more visible now with the red background and, more important, it is now on the side of the rail that faces the road.
Yeoman married a Nowels, and helping build his cabin were his wife's father and brother, John and David Nowels. Some have suggested that Rensselaer should actually be called Yeoman. Perhaps Nowels would be more fitting.

 One of the workers said that asphalt would be laid down tomorrow. Still needed are the iron railings that will decorate the top of the fake brickwork.
There are three auctions of interest coming up. The County is having an auction on November 18. Saint Joseph's College has a two day auction of what did not sell in the past two months on November 24-25. I noticed last week that the Max Prouty Auto Sales looked like it had closed and it has. Monday's Rensselaer Republican had an auction notice on its classified pages for his "Retirement Auction" on November 18 at 11:00.

And one more thing. Winter is coming late this year. A week into November and we have had only one frost. My tomato plants are still alive though no longer producing. Contrast that to what happened a century ago.
In 1917 the first killing frost was on September 10.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

And then there were three

The big news from the past week is that Fair Oaks Farms held the ceremonial groundbreaking for a new hotel that will be located just south of the Farmhouse Restaurant. It will be a Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott with 99 rooms and is scheduled to open in early 2019. One thing it will not have is an indoor water park, something that had been rumored. Here is more info and here is a nice picture of what the hotel will look like. 

In much less important news, this week Find A Grave added a third famous interment to their Weston Cemetery pages. (Without looking, can you name the first two?) The new member on this list is Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson. I controlled her find-a-grave memorial for the past year and had written a short biography for the memorial. The people at Find A Grave deleted it and replaced it with the entry from Wikipedia. I was a little disappointed at that.

In Milroy Park there are three stones commemorating authors who came from Rensselaer and one of them is for Eleanor Atkinson. What is rather odd is that the last house in which the Stackhouses lived before they left Rensselaer was in the old Milroy home that was located where Milroy Park is now.  The residences of the Stackhouses while they were in Rensselaer are recounted in an essay that Harry Stackhouse wrote for the July 21, 1941 issue of Rensselaer Republican  and that was reprinted in the Winter 2007 issue of Vintage Views. The early Stackhouse children were born in the "square north of the entrance to Weston Cemetery", so both markers for Eleanor are quite close to former places she lived. 

Milroy Park was the first Rensselaer park. The person who was key in getting this park established was Mary Ellen Travis Thompson. She was the wife of Alfred Thompson, an early Rensselaer banker, and they built an impressive house on Park Avenue (which at the time was probably River Street--it was renamed when a young lady wanted a more impressive address and organized the residents to change the name). Mrs Thompson also was the largest donor for the Milroy statue and her name is on the base of the statue, in the back.
The sculptor of the Milroy statue, Mary Washburn, did a bas relief of Mary Ellen Thompson in 1905 and a sculpture of the young Edwin P Rhoads in about 1906. Both are illustrated in the Winter 2006 issue of Vintage Views and one of the members of the Jasper County Historical Society would like to know if anyone has any idea of what happened to them.

During the past week workers on the Washington Street bridge have been putting steel in place so that the sidewalks can be poured. Below is the view from the south looking at the west side of the bridge.
 Below is the view of the west side of the bridge from the north.
I do not know what the white pipe is for.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Odds and end to begin November

As far as I know, there is nothing big and exciting happening this week but there are a lot of little things happening. I ventured out to see if the Watt substation on Bunkum was finished yet. It is not but is much further along than the last time I was there (which seems to have been two months ago).
 On the way out I stopped by the old water well field on Bunkum. The well houses were demolished in July but only recently have the pipes above ground been removed and the wells capped. Or maybe one has not been capped yet. There seemed to be water seeping out of the pipe where the westernmost of the three wells was located. Early history of Rensselaer reports that there was at least one artesian well in the area so maybe this should not be so surprising.
 The curb for the widening of North Elza Street is in place. The street will be a bit wider when the project is finished.
 The asphalt to smooth the transition of the Milroy walking path and the street has been put in place, though the last time I looked at it, barricades were still up.

This week workers finished the little sidewalk that leads to the soccer field in Brookside Park.
I visited Monon this week and noticed a new marquee on the old theater. The theater has been closed for quite a few years but is being restored. A post on the Facebook page of the Monon Civic Preservation Society indicates it was installed on September 1.
Meanwhile the restored theater in Fowler seems to be having trouble attracting enough people (and volunteers).

I noticed that gas prices have jumped to their highest level in quite a while.  Most of the prices in Rensselaer are just shy of $2.90.

Work on the bridge seems to have slowed this week. There is still a bit of concrete to pour for the end railings and some asphalt needed to connect the concrete of the bridge with the existing road. The bridge is scheduled to be open in a couple of weeks.
I could not resist including this article published a century ago in the Jasper County Democrat. I wonder what the current figures would be. Also, note that DeMotte is not mentioned. It must have been very small if Keener township has so few cars.
And while on the subject of livestock, congratulations to the Rensselaer Central High School FFA Livestock Judging team that won the national competition last week. The Rensselaer Republican had an article about the team and their accomplishment in Saturday's (10/28/2017) edition. The press release from the national FFA is here.