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

Monday, December 31, 2018

Some highlights from 2018

Closings seemed to be a thread winding through 2018. PNC Bank announced early in the year that it was closing its Rensselaer and Wheatfield branches, making Merrillville the nearest branch. Many locals spent time and effort relocating banking accounts. The PNC building was purchased by the County in December and will be remodeled to allow the prosecutor's office and the Health Department to move out of the former REMC building.

In June the Jasper County Youth Center on Sparling closed. Also closing in the summer were Greene's Furniture and the Antique Mall. The biggest closing is still in the future. Early this year NIPSCO announced that it would be shutting down two of the four generating stations at the Wheatfield Schahfer plant, and then a  bit later it announced that all four would be shut down by 2023. NIPSCO is by far the largest payer of property taxes in the County and is one of the larger employers.

While there were some goings, there were also some comings. Two CAFOs were approved and began construction. One was for medical research swine and is located in Barkley Township. The other is a traditional swine breeding operation that will produce baby pigs and is located in Jordan Township. Both had opposition that led to long meetings of the BZA, Plan Commission, and Commissioners. IMPA finished a solar park in the northern part of Rensselaer that is now in operation. Several new businesses opened in downtown Rensselaer: Moonshiners, The Little Coffee Shop on 231, and Thee Dragonfly. The latter picked up some of the vendors that had been at Greene's Antique Mall and will open in a new location in 2019. Through much of the year there were rumors of interest in a very large solar farm near Wheatfield and in December the rumors were confirmed. A motel is going up near Remington. Adjacent to Jasper County, Fair Oaks Farms has been building a large hotel that will open early in 2019. The biggest coming for Rensselaer will also open in 2019, the 44 unit assisted-living facility being built by Autumn Trace.
The Police Department moved its offices. NITCO purchased Rensselear TV Cable and moved offices to the old Blockbuster building. The bakery changed ownership and is now Brandie's Bakery. Balloons Galore and Endless Treasure moved. Family Dentistry on Front Street changed ownership at the end of the year and 2019 will welcome new dentist.

Three construction projects that the blog followed with interest were the water main to the new well on Sparling Avenue, the Grace Street reconstruction, and the improvements to the intersection of US 231 and Mt. Calvary Road. The blog did not have much to say about another important construction project, the replacement of the bridge deck several miles north of Rensselaer on US 231. The Parks for People Campaign raised most of its $1.5 million goal and began work on two projects, a dog park on Bunkum Road and new soccer fields at the former site of the Monnett School. MainStreet Rensselaer put in a short walking tail in Milroy Park. The City of Rensselaer approved a downtown development plan that was funded by a state grant.

2018 saw some interesting events. A replica of the Vietnam Wall came to Brookside Park in May. The Fair Grounds hosted a national convention in July, the Van Nationals. The remnants of Hurricane Gordon rained out part of the Little Cousin Jasper Festival in September. A new event arrived in September, a cemetery walk in Weston Cemetery called Memories Alive. There were open houses and tours of the City power plant and Chief Industries.

This blog posted frequent updates about the cleanup of the trail derailment that happened at the end of 2017. In February heavy rains led to river flooding. The Grandma's Restaurant building was demolished. SJC settled its debt with Farm Credit and as part of the settlement, about 800 acres of SJC land were auctioned. Discussions of wind farms were the subject of many meetings, some with very large crowds. The issue will spill over into 2019.

What else should I have included?

(The Rensselear Republican's Year in Review is here.)

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Last but long

The Commissioners held their end of the year meeting on Wednesday, December 26. What I thought would be a fairly short meeting lasted three and a half hours.

They approved a buried cable permit for NITCO. Whatever NITCO was doing seemed to be related in some way to an outage of phone service somewhere in northern Jasper County. They signed some documents for changes needed in the County's life insurance policies and approved the salary contract for the Sheriff. They approved filling three vacancies in the Sheriff's Department and approved adding a person in the Prosecutor's Office who will mostly deal with child support cases. The position in the Prosecutor's Office has been vacant for several months.

The meeting schedule for the Commissioners meetings will be the first Monday of the month except for September, when it will be the first Tuesday. (Labor Day is on the first Monday.) They signed a variety of contracts and documents. The Coroner currently does not charge for documents, which is not the practice in surrounding counties, and said that he would like to start charging to defray costs. He also wanted the County to charge for cremation permits so the Coroner will be aware of some deaths that he maybe should see. There was a long discussion of per diem expenses for assistants for the department. The Veteran's Office will be limiting hours so they can better do interviews and paper work. The new hours were approved on a 90-day trial basis. The Commissioners approved a lengthy list of appointments to positions and boards, almost all of which were reappointments.

The remainder of the meeting was taken up with a discussion of the wind turbine ordinance that had been passed by the Planning Commission in November. They added a few things that made the ordinance more restrictive such as setbacks for private airstrips that are FFA recognized and took a few things out that seemed to be issues that landowners should negotiate with wind farm operators. They discussed and I think they approved a height limit. The new wind turbines in Benton County have a tip height of 567 feet and the limit that they seemed to be considering was about that height. (They were working from a document that I did not have and often a variety of options were bounced around and sometimes it was hard to follow which one they settled on.) They reduced some of the setbacks. They consulted at least one study and several other documents that they had found or solicited. They were very concerned about protecting the County from any adverse effects of constructing and operating the turbines.

Although they agreed on many changes, there were areas on which they wanted more information and presumably those items will be discussed and resolved in the January meeting. I suspect that the document that they pass will be considerably different from what the Plan Commission passed. It will then go back to the Plan Commission for their consideration. The Plan Commission can either make some minor changes and send the document back to the Commissioners hoping that the minor changes will be approved, or they can take a harder line and stand with something close to their original proposal, which will probably be rejected by the Commissioners and resulting in the whole process starting again. There should be some interesting meetings in early 2019.

As I was leaving, i was invited to tour the basement of the Court House. I had never been down there. It is full of stuff in storage. In many places there are pipes about five feet above the floor, so walking required keeping one's head down.
 There are a lot of old law books down there.

This hole was for steam pipes that used to run to the old jail. The passage was never used to bring prisoners from the old jail to the Court House. It is now blocked off.

This area looks like it could have once been a holding area for prisoners. It was not. It was once the mircofilm department and two ladies worked down here. The department was moved across Washington Street into what is now Gutwein Seeds and then back to the Court House when the Surveyor's Office was moved to the building that was formerly the office building of Jasper County Farm Bureau (before they merged with Ceres Solutions).
 The Court House has two new boilers. They are quite small for the size of the building. They replaced much larger boilers.
I also got up to the attic but did not climb the spiral stairs to the tower. (For pictures higher in the building, see here.) The light is from a window in the attic.
 A look at the rafters with looks like fairly recent duct work.

Thee Dragonfly is moving from its present location at the corner of Front and Kellner to Washington Street next to the Bakery. It will reopen as Country Bumpkin in February.

Friday, December 21, 2018

End of year meetings

The County Council resumed a continued meeting on Wednesday evening. It rather quickly approved the 2019 pay for the Sheriff by amending the salary ordinance. There is another step that I did not catch that will have to be done in February. It was determined that the 60% pay rate is based only on what the State pays the prosecuting attorney. The amount budgeted for 2019 is about $2000 less than the new salary. The contract otherwise was identical to the contract that Sheriff Risner has presented for the past eight years and it, too, was approved.
The Council then spent twenty or thirty minutes discussing a variety of issues. They wondered how to structure tax abatement for the proposed solar park. Normally they tie the abatement to jobs created but this project will not create jobs. Its major benefit to the County will be tax revenue, and a tax abatement reduces that. They noted that Jasper County has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state. There was some discussion of the renovation of the former PNC building. There are two companies considering proposals. Andrew Andree noted that it would be a great winter job since it is all inside. He also suggested that the County needed a Building and Grounds committee with authority to spend small sums to get things done quickly. There was a brief mention of the addiction treatment house west of town that opened this year. It has sent about 15 people on to the Elkhart facility.

On Friday the Rensselaer City Council met for its final 2018 meeting. It was short and not very interesting. The Council passed an ordinance that increases the pay firemen receive for going on a run. It also passed a series of ordinances that take off the books meter deposits of people who no longer have an account but did not claim their deposits. The total for the four utilities of gas, electric, water, and sewer was about $21,000. If anyone who is owned a deposit asks for it, he will get it, but the action suggests that the City does not think most of that money will ever be claimed.

Next there was a motion to carry over purchase orders made in 2018 to 2019, paying them from the 2018 appropriations. There were eight companies mentioned that will be receiving payment in this way. The Council approved one transfer of funds and a small decrease in the electric tracker that will save about 34¢ for the typical utility bill.

The School Resource officer and the Mayor requested that the Council approve a joint project with the Rensselaer Schools to buy a book for all fifth graders that stresses character--honesty, fidelity, etc. This is part of a program that replaces the DARE program. It will have two year trial period. The Council approved spending $585 each year for the program.

There was only one announcement, and that was that the Fire Department's aerial truck  did not pass its pump test. If the water tanks have to be drained to prevent them from freezing, the pumps will not work when they are refilled because the pump priming mechanism has failed. A repairman will look at the problem next week and early estimates are that the cost of repair may be between $1200 and $5000. With that the meeting adjourned.

I have been very impressed with how quickly the walls have been going up at the Autumn Trace site. The picture below was taken Wednesday and shows the view looking to the west from Cooperative School Services.
Have a Merry Christmas.

PS: Friday is the solstice. Days now start getting longer, though it is hard to notice for several weeks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

History, meetings, and more about solar plans

The Jasper County Historical Society met on Tuesday evening and after a brief business meeting, was entertained by Three Longs and A Short, a barbershop quartet.
At its business meeting Dr. William White, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Purdue, thanked several members Historical Society (and especially Judy Kanne) for getting him involved in reviewing and sorting the papers of Charles Halleck from Halleck's days as prosecuting attorney. Dr. White wrote an article about what he found in the papers that was accepted in the Indiana Magazine of History, a peer reviewed journal published by Indiana University. You can see the abstract of the article here. Judy Kanne announced that the Society has very little about the Chicago Bears training camps in Rensselaer and requested anyone who has anything to let her or others at the Museum see it. They can copy pictures or papers; it does not need to be a donation.

The Jasper County Council also met on Tuesday evening. It has a new attorney, Jacob Ahler. He has served as attorney for Wolcott and Brook and attends City Council meetings in Rensselaer when Michael Riley cannot. He has had experience with the Indiana Board of Accounts and said he really likes serving as an attorney for government bodies.

Sheriff-elect Williamson presented the Council with a salary contract, which has been an annual item on the agenda. The discussion got bogged down into technical details of what state law and regulations require. State law gives two options for Sheriff's pay. One is to pay him 60% of what the prosecuting attorney makes and the other is to have a separate contract that allows him a percentage of tax warrants and other items. The prosecuting attorney is paid by the state at a state-mandated rate, which for next year will be $147,000. However, the County chips in an extra $5000. It was unclear which amount the 60% would be applied to. In addition, the County budget, which has been approved, has $86,263 in it for Sheriff's pay, which is a bit less than the 60% figure. Because the Council could not resolve the technical problems, the meeting was not adjourned at its end but continued to Wednesday at 5 pm.

The Sheriff also asked the Council to approve a contract for legal services for the Department. The Department uses a lawyer who is well versed on laws about the Sheriff's office and his advice has been very helpful in the past. The Council approved the contract.

Ray Seif, the Airport Manager, requested and received a transfer of funds. He also updated the Council on what was happening at the Airport. He said that currently the Airport cannot handle larger business jets. The runway is 4000 feet long, which is plenty long for small planes but not for some of the corporate jets in use. Also, those who fly these jets want hanger space for parking in bad weather and the airport lacks that. The Airport would like a second runway of at least 5000 feet, though 6000 would be better.

The Council approved several other transfers of funds, one of which was for $28.35. It approved a job description for the position of part-time sanitarian, a recent hire to replace a departing full-time sanitarian in the Health Department. It also set its meeting schedule for 2019: 1-15, 2-19, 3-19, 4-16, 5-21, 6-18, 7-16, 8-20, 9-17, 10-15, 11-19, and 12-17. (Those should all be the third Tuesday of the month.) It made appointments for various Boards, approving continuation of existing members with one exception. Gerrett DeVries resigned from the Plan Commission and Steve Jordan agreed to replace him.

The final item was a briefing from a representative from Orion Renewables on their plans for a large solar park in Kankakee Township. He began with some background on solar. His company has been mostly involved in wind farms and he said that solar did not make economic sense for the Midwest five years ago. However, since then the costs of panels has fallen so much that it now does make sense even though the Midwest does not have nearly as many sunny days as the desert Southwest. It helps that solar parks tend to produce when demand is highest, during the day and especially during hot summer days when there is heavy use of air conditioning. Solar alone would not make sense but solar as a part of an array of other sources does. Gas can be used to fill in gaps and battery technology has improved greatly in the past few years. He said that NIPSCO did an analysis of its energy needs for the next twenty years and he was surprised that they decided to go with renewables. He was asked what the lifetime of a solar installation was and he said 30 years was the expected life. The utilities sign contracts agreements that cover 25 to 30 years and it would not make sense to have these contracts if the life of the facilities was less than 30 years. The costs of solar parks is almost entirely up front. Once installed, there is very little cost to them because they employ virtually no people and use no fuel.

He was asked about the cost of removal when the facility was no longer needed. He said that unlike wind turbines, there is no concrete base. The steel poles are driven into the ground and can be pulled back out. The panels can be recycled.

Orion has arranged the lease of 2800 to 3000 acres of land near the Shahfer Plant. It has an interconnect agreement with NIPSCO that will allow it to access the grid. He noted that much of the land that they are leasing is sandy and not the best farm land, which was a reason many of the farmers were agreeable to leasing. The farmers also found it a way of diversifying.

Orion does not yet have a buyer for the electricity and they will not build unless they have one. They also will not build without a tax abatement. He said that other counties give tax abatements for solar facilities and Jasper County would not be a competitive building site without one. Further, an abatement allows them to be more competitive in selling power, which can be important in getting a buyer to sign a contract.

The scale of the project will depend on how much power they can sell. If fully built, it will generate over 250 megawatts and cost about $255 million (which will help offset the loss of assessed valuation when NIPSCO shuts down its generating station.) We will undoubtedly hear more about this in the next few months.

Jasper the Buffalo is back on the second floor of the Court House.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

New PA, mining, solar, and walls

On Monday Jacob Taulman was sworn in as Prosecuting Attorney. His stay in office will be brief, only a couple weeks. In late November Christine Haskell Bogen resigned. The governor declared the office vacant and the Jasper County Republican Committee met to name a replacement to fill the remainder of her term. It was no surprise that they chose Mr Taulman, who won the election in November. He will serve the remainder of Mrs. Bogen's term and in about a week will be sworn in for the full term that he won in the election.

My camera had dust on the lens and it does not do well when there is bright light in the background. Judge Potter swore him in on Monday morning.
During his term the prosecutor's office will move from its present quarters in the former REMC building to new space in the former PNC building.

On Monday evening both the Jasper County Board of Zoning Appeal and Plan Commission met. The BZA had only one case, a variance for sand mining. The petitioner, who is from the Wheatfield area, wants to expand a pond from less than an acre to four or five acres. That action is an allowed action under the code and does not need BZA approval. However, he would like to get rid of the sand that is removed, selling it to offset the cost of the pond. Selling sand is considered mining under the code, and that does require approval. He wants the pond to be 9 feet deep, which will require about 90,000 cubic yards of material to be moved. The Board discussed this issue for half an hour before finally approving it. One member of the audience stated that there were other people in the area who were mining sand with no permits and he thought it unfair that the BZA subjected the petitioner to the long, drawn-out hearing.

The only issue that the Plan Commission had was a proposed solar farm ordinance. The Commissioners had requested this ordinance because there are companies looking at Jasper County as a site to put solar farms. Mary Scheurich, Director of Planning and Development, had assembled the ordinance using ideas from ordinances from other counties. The members of the commission were reluctant to do anything with it. They referred back to their experiences with the Wind Farm Ordinance. In late 2016 they had approved changes to the ordinance based on input from wind farm companies. Then concerned citizens attacked that action by proposing a very different set of changes, and that led to hearings that had so many people attending that the meetings were moved to the Fairgrounds. Several members said that they needed to do more research.

There were representatives from two companies that are interested in building solar parks in Jasper County. I did not get the name of one of the companies, but they are at a very early stage and have no firm plans. The other was Orion Renewables, which develops both wind farms and solar parks. If I have the right company, they were the developers of the first Benton County wind farm and are currently working on a large solar farm in Spencer County, Indiana. They want to do a project in Kankakee Township and it sounded as if it was quite a large project. They said that even though once a solar  park is installed, it uses virtually no local labor, there are economic benefits to the community in addition to the tax revenues. Many companies want to be located near renewable energy sources, so having solar in the County would make the County more attractive for certain kinds of businesses.

The Plan Commission voted to set up a technical committee to research the subject. The next two meetings will be on the fourth Mondays of the month because of holidays on the third Mondays (MLK and Presidents' Day). I am confident that this ordinance will not generate the widespread public opposition that the revised Wind Farm ordinance did.

When I checked the Autumn Trace site on Monday morning, there were a lot of workers but nothing was happening. A day later a whole lot of walls are up.
Who knew that Strack and Van Til would be my one-stop Christmas shopping center. I am sure my grandkids will be very excited to get the presents I bought for them ;-)


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Some quick notes

There were two announcements from SJC this past week.  First, there was an announcement of a new fund raising initiative, which is currently on its home page. Second, it announced changes in the leadership team, with Fr Barry Fischer leaving to become campus chaplain at Marian University. See the announcement here.

The Sheriff's office announced that highway US 231 is now open north of Rensselaer. There is no longer a need to detour around the bridge over the Iroquois.

NITCO is giving access to some of the premium channels through December. The channels differ from week to week.

The former office of PNC Bank is now the property of Jasper County. The sale was finalized on December 7. PNC told its local employees that when it closed a branch, it kept about 80% of the deposits. Talking to a few people at other banks, I find it hard to believe that they will keep anything near that from the closed Jasper County branches. Who wants to go to Merrillville when you need help?

On Friday trucks were unloading lumber at the Autumn Trace construction site. Maybe some walls will be up next week.

There were hundreds of geese just to the west of Conagra on Friday. I took a few pictures, but none turned out well. So the picture for this post will be of the new outlet pipe that the quarry recently installed for pumping. It was being used on Friday.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

City council 12/10/2018 and more trees

Rensselaer City Council met Monday evening. It approved a gas tracker that was a fraction of a cent increase per hundred cubic feet, transferred some funds, and approved the supply bids from Ceres Solutions for fuel and Wonderland Tire for tires.

There are a couple of unnamed companies that would like to attach lines to the City's utility poles. Steve Miller, Electric Manager of Operations and Engineering, presented a proposed pole attachment agreement that the City would use for these companies and for companies now using City poles when their current agreements come up for renewal. The contract that he presented incorporated items that other cities have in their pole attachment contracts. The Council approved the contract and authorized the Mayor to sign it.

Kevin Cochran, Weston Cemetery Superintendent, asked for approval to remodel the cemetery building. The remodeling would move the office from the back of the building to the front. His request was approved. Mr Haun said he was working on an ordinance to change pay for firemen. Currently they are working with a 2007 pay ordinance that gives them $7.50 per run they attend. He wanted it raised to $10.00. The Council approved the change but the ordinance needs a few technical details worked out before it can be presented to the Council.

The Mayor announced that he had heard from U.S. Department of Agriculture that Rensselaer would receive a grant of $1,749,000 and a loan for about $3,400,000 at 2.375% interest to replace the lift station next to Weston Cemetery and extend sewer lines to 3 unserved areas. This is part of a long term sewage control plan that the City must undertake. More details about this part of the plan and the grant are here. The grant proposal was discussed in a Council meeting in July.

In short notes, IDOT has not responded to the City Attorney's letter regarding the abandoned substation on Maple Street. The new well on Sparling is not in operation, nor is the Rensselaer 2 Solar Farm, though the latter was supposed to be commissioned on Tuesday. There was a question about the power outage/brownout late Sunday evening. The problem was not with the City but with the supplier, which is NIPSCO. The supply was reduced to one phase (and I do not really know what that means). The power was back to normal when the City switched the whole city to the Banet substation from the Eger substation. The power problems also affected some REMC users.

Below are a few more trees from the Christmas Tree Walk in Potawatomie Park.


More animals have been added to the Animal Shelter tree.
The Library also has decorated trees on display. These three are from the Jasper/Newton Foundation, Tops, and CDC Resources. People can vote for their favorite tree by making a donation to the Food Pantry.
Other trees in the Library are from Bethany Church, 4-H, First Presbyterian Church, and Tri Kappa.
The Library also has Christmas displays in its entryway. One section is of Santa figures given to the Library from the John and Sharon Schulenberg estate and the other is of nutcrackers from the collection of a young girl

The water level in the river has been dropping as the ice along the bank and on some trees shows.
Finally, this week there has been construction activity at the Autumn Trace site. On Monday concrete trucks were delivering more concrete and on Tuesday there was digging going on. I keep waiting for walls to go up.
Wednesday update: There were three more power interruptions today, though only one at my house. The problem is with NIPSCO. Also, the new solar park is now on-line and producing electricity.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Christmas tree walk

The tree lighting for the Christmas tree walk is scheduled for Saturday at 5:30 in Potawatomie Park. There are 14 or 15 trees up as of Friday morning and there may be one or two more ready before the lighting.

The Alzheimer's Association has a tree and a bike. The bike is is there for the Ride to End ALZ event.
 This one is only identified with a HOPE sign. (Update: It is Sexual Assault Awaraeness.)
 Valley Oaks Health is the new name of Wabash Valley Alliance. Their office is on Drexel Drive.
 The light was not right to get a good picture of the dog in the doghouse beneath the tree of the Jasper Count Animal Shelter.
 I assume BAE is Bombers for Academic Excellence.
 I thought this might be a John Deere display until the Brown Garden & Floral Shoppe sign was added.
 A tree from Ci Insurance.
 A corny display that is not labeled. Perhaps IBEC? (Update: Yes, IBEC.)
 Hope Community Church has a lighted cross.
 The white tree is from the Police Department and the one with the fire truck is from Fire Department. The Police Department tree is my favorite and I suspect will be the favorite of most little boys. I hope they can keep their hands off the ornaments.
 There was no identification for this tree but it may be the favorite of the birds. It has strings of cheerios and other food bits as ornaments. (Update: It is RCMS Science Buddies.)
 I also could not identify who put up this tree. (Update: RCMS National Junior Honor Society.)

The Rensselaer Library also has a variety of trees from various organizations. Maybe I will show them in a future post.

On Friday morning the Tourism Commission met for its monthly meeting.  JCEDO with the aid of South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority had applied to host an economic development conference next September and their bid or proposal was accepted from the ten submissions. It will be held at Fair Oaks.

Most of the meeting discussed the application forms for getting Jasper County Tourism Commission funding. They would like to tighten up the requirements for festival funding. The application says that the event that gets funding is supposed to report back to the Commission but apparently few do. (I was there to give a final report on the Weston Cemetery Walk. The Tourism Commission would like to see growth or an upward trend in the festivals it funds.

They are also developing a capital improvements application. The thought of the members is that if there can be improvements that make the County more attractive to visitors, those improvements should receive help. However, they do not want to be funding maintenance. The grant that they gave to the Parks for People campaign is a major reason that they are trying to iron out the rules for this kind of funding.

A representative of the South Shore was at the meeting and mentioned that they were looking for someone to contribute to their blog about tourism and entertainment activities in Jasper and Newton Counties. If you are doing outdoor activities or other things that might be of interest from a tourism perspective and you would like to write about them, contact South Shore. Their blog is Along the South Shore and they have pieces on Jasper and Newton Counties (especially Newton because of Kankakee Sands.) Who knows what doors something like this could open. (I am not interested because I am too old to do fun things.)  It should be easy to do at least one post a month about Jasper County events and activities.

Leaving the meeting, I noticed that the Country Bumpkin shop has moved in with Thee Dragonfly. Both had the same owner and consolidating space is sensible. Thee Dragonfly now occupies the entire space that was once Long's Gift and From the Needle's Point. It has a variety of vendors selling there. Some were once at Greene's Antique Mall.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Animal shelter, wind farms, and more

Late last week Saint Joseph's College announced that it had reached a settlement in the Sodexo lawsuit. 

On Saturday the annual Christmas parade was canceled because of the forecast of thunderstorms at the time of the parade. The actual thunder came later and there was only some light rain during the scheduled parade time. The parade was canceled, not postponed, because it requires a permit from the state highway department to close US 231.

On Monday the Commissioners met for the first of two December meetings. (There is always a second December meeting to take care of items that need to be resolved before the end of the year. This year's second meeting will be on December 26.) The first item of interest was the opening of bids for a new Wheatfield Township fire station. This was the second round of bidding. The first round produced bids that the Township thought exceeded its budget for the station. There were three bids, with the base bids ranging from $1,479,500 to $1,585,800. However, there were eight alternatives, some adding features and others deleting features, so the final bid price could be different from the base bid. The bids were turned over to the Township.

Next the Friends of the Animal Shelter gave a long presentation in which they said that their plans to add on to the current shelter had changed and they now wanted to build a new shelter. They wanted and received approval to move forward so they could hire a consultant to tell them how big a new building should be. There was some concern that building to the south of the current shelter might run into problems with the foundation of the old County Home (Poor Farm). The Commissioners warned them that they should expect no funding from the County and that the County did not want a new facility that would increase expenses. The representatives of the Friends of the Animal Shelter expressed confidence that they could raise the funding needed to build.

The representative from Financial Arts, who is coordinating the County's switch of health insurance, discussed some changes and details in the new health insurance that needed Commissioner approval. A person who wants to expand a pond was next. He has not yet gone before Planning or the BZA but wanted to know what he needed if he had the material excavated hauled over County Roads. He was told to come back when and if he actually hauls material.

The Sheriff and a representative from Franciscan Health gave a presentation on employee mental health. Nationally first responders have more depression and mental health issues than the rest of the population because in their jobs  they witness traumatic situations. The Sheriff said that he would be working with Franciscan but wondered if there were any other County employees who might also benefit from the arrangements he was making. Mr Culp said that he would have the item on a meeting of Department heads next week. The Commissioners approved a contract with Lake and Porter Counties to house juvenile defendants. This is an annual contract and in 2018 Jasper County exceeded the number of days in this year's contract.

The Health Department asked for and was granted permission to hire a part-time food inspector. The Commissioners approved with little discussion the CAFO and floodplain ordinances that had come to them from the Plan Commission.

The last item on the agenda was a third ordinance from the Plan Commission, a wind farm ordinance. Because of widespread public interest in this item, the meeting moved upstairs to one of the court rooms which have much more seating than the Commissioners room. (Pictures from the Rensselaer Republican here.)
Mr Culp announced that there would be no vote on this item at this meeting and that the session would end at 11:45, which was more than an hour later. First Vince Urbano, a member of the Plan Commission, went over the various changes that the Plan Commission had made and answered questions from the Commissioners. Then members of the public had a chance to voice their concerns and opinions. It was all very orderly.

In the afternoon the Drainage Board met. It revised the boundaries of the watershed of the Amsler ditch. When it was being reconstructed, a tile was discovered draining into it from land that was not considered to be in the watershed. The change will reduce the amount that people who had been in the watershed will pay but may be an unpleasant surprise to those who discover that they are in the watershed.

The Board reviewed plans for the KV High School athletic improvements. These plans have been scaled back from what was originally desired because of the prospect of lost property tax revenue in a few years. It also looked at the drainage plans for the Casey's General Store in Wheatfield. The building has already been built and it did not get Drainage Board approval earlier because the builders did not realize that they needed it.

Here is a final picture, the current state of the Autumn Trace Apartments. I think the weather has slowed progress.
Speaking of slowed progress, the weather has also delayed the opening of US 231 north of Rensselaer. Work on the bridge over the Iroquois is not yet finished.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The bicycle craze of 1896

While looking for something else in old newspapers using the Library's microfilm reader, two advertisements caught my attention. The first was a huge ad for bikes. Ellis & Murray mostly sold clothing.
 The second was a bit smaller.
 Seventy five and a hundred dollars do not sound like a lot to pay for a bike today, but that was a huge amount in 1896. According to this site, the average wage in the 1900 Census was a mere $450. (The site also says that there were only 10,000 millionaires in the world in 1900.)

I also stumbled on the item below. Earl or Earle Reynolds is one of Rensselaer's "almost famous" persons—people who were fairly well known nationally in their time but forgotten today. He was a skater who toured with a skating act, mostly with his wife. More info is here.
 Can you imagine learning to ride a bike as an adult? As for Melba and Calve, info on them is here and here.

I checked the Internet for information on the history of the bicycle to see if I could discover why suddenly there are big ads for bikes in the Rensselaer paper. I found this article that gives a lot of detail about the development of the bike. It was not until the late 1880s that the chain and pneumatic tires made the bike look like the bikes we know today.  Another article, The Bike Boom, specifically mentions 1896 as a year of bike craze: “In the year 1896, there was simultaneously an increase in bicycle popularity and a severe economic depression. Bicycles were one of the few areas of the economy where sales were growing; people were buying bicycles ‘whether they could afford them or not’. This attracted hundreds of manufacturers into the bicycle business.”

In the United States the bike mostly disappeared as a means of adult transportation after 1900, replaced by the auto. However, in other parts of the world the bike is still an important means of getting around.

One other ad caught my attention. I will show it without further comment.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

CAFOs, wind farms, and solar parks


The City Council meeting ran unusually long and the Jasper County BZA meeting started earlier than usual, so I missed it completely. There was only one item on the agenda, a special exception from Union Township from someone who wants to rent a loft on a nightly basis, perhaps via Airbnb. It passed. The Plan Commission meeting followed and I missed the first item on the agenda, the amendment to the UDO for confined feeding set-back requirements. This issue had gone back and forth between the Commissioners and the Plan Commission earlier this year and the differences had been narrowed, but not eliminated. This amendment restarted the process. I was surprised to learn after the meeting that it had been sent to the Commissioners with no recommendation; the vote was split 4-4. Apparently the sticking point was a revised setback of 300 feet to an A1 property. The setback that the Plan Commission had previously passed was 500 feet to the property line without mention of the zoning of adjacent parcels.

When I did arrive, discussion of the proposed Wind Farm Overlay District had just begun. The draft they were considering was a new draft, one prepared by the special committee that had been formed at a previous meeting. There were a couple of small suggested changes made by members of the Commission before the public was invited to comment. One of the people who was in the forefront of the opposition to wind turbines thanked them for the work they had put into the draft. A lady from Wheatfield spoke of the negatives of coal-generated power, implying that she preferred wind-generated power. A farmer from southern Jasper County objected to the ordinance saying the regulations would stop him from doing what he wanted with his property. He suggested that wind turbines would make sense in along the southern border because they were already just across the county line and he and his neighbors already had the ill-effects of turbines but none of the benefits. Someone mentioned that there are plans for a very large solar farm near Wheatfield and that it could dampen the adverse financial effects of the closure of the Shahfer Plant. A couple of consultants spoke and argued that the sound and flicker restrictions in the ordinance were too strict.

The Commission then passed the ordinance and sent it on to the Commissioners who must also pass it for it to take effect.

I did get a copy of the passed ordinance on Tuesday. It requires a setback of 1.5 times tip height to the property line and the greater of 2,640 feet of 6.5 times the tip height to any non-participating property (someone who has no contract with the wind farm company). The setback to a non-participating residence is one mile (which can be waived, though why it would be waived by someone who does not sign a contract is unclear to me) and one mile from any lot zoned R1, R2, VR, M1, M2, or IS. (I do not know what some of those are.) No shadow flicker is allowed on a non-participant and the maximum sound level at the property line of a non-participant is 35 decibels. 

Even if this ordinance is watered down a bit before it is passed, I suspect the setbacks combined with the widespread opposition to turbines from those living in the area will kill any plans to place wind turbines in Jasper County.

The Commission then turned to a flood plain amendment that is basically mandated by FEMA. The Rensselaer City Council had passed this rather quickly earlier in the evening, but there was more discussion at the Planning Commission. The vote to send it to the Commissioners with a recommendation was 7-1.

The final item on the agenda was a ordinance for solar energy systems (solar parks) but it had not been properly advertised so could not be discussed. It will be on the agenda for the December 17th meeting. (The Plan Commission and BZA will probably be moving their meetings next year from the fourth to the third Monday of the month.)

The first tree for the Christmas Tree Walk in Potawatomie Park was up on Wednesday. It featured decorations about Alzheimer's Disease awareness. The trees will be lit after the Christmas Parade on Saturday afternoon.
A few more ash trees were being cut down in Weston Cemetery on Wednesday. The west part of the cemetery looks very different now than what it looked like a few years ago.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

City Council 11-26-2018

Monday's City Council meeting lasted longer than I expected. First up in the Citizen's Comments section was Alice Smith who is involved in the Trunk or Treat program at Halloween. She wanted the Council to set the date for Trick or Treat for the next two years to be on the last Sunday of October. She said that otherwise she could not be sure that the Fairgrounds would be able to accommodate the event. After some discussion, the Council set the date for Trick or Treat 2019 on the last Sunday of October. Mark your calendars.

She also said that in the past revenue from the haunted house supported the event and that money is almost gone. So there will be fundraising next year.

The Council then passed a flood plain ordinance that FEMA requires if the City and its residents want to get any help from them. It passed.

The City's financial consultant was there to request an amendment to a past bond ordinance that is needed for the City to issue bonds. The amendment increased the amount by $125,000 (the total issue will be $3.5 million) and extended the maturity by one year to July 2039. This money will allow the City to get another connection for natural gas, this one near Pleasant Ridge. The financing should be in place before the end of the year. The expected interest rate is about 4%. Interest rates have been rising and that was a reason for getting this done now.

Following were some items that were fairly routine. There was a transfer of funds for the Police Department and opening of supply bids for gasoline, diesel, and tire repair. The bids were given to a committee to evaluate. The Council approved a quote for a pick-up truck for the Fire Department of $36,940 after trade in from Gutwein Motors. The Urban Forestry Council was given $2500 for shrubs to go above the big conduit leading from the high-rate plant to the river. That money will come from the Public Relations fund, as will $700 that the Council approved for two tables at the upcoming Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner and Awards Program.

There was a discussion of the old INDOT subdistrict lot on Maple Street. Someone from INDOT contacted the Mayor asking what stipulations the City would make before taking the lot. There have been discussions of this in the past and nothing has come of it. After some discussion, the Council authorized City Attorney Riley to write a letter saying that the first step would be a Phase 1 environmental study. One has been done in the past but it has hit its expiration date. The study should give the City some idea of what potential environment liabilities the site may have. (The site had gasoline tanks that leaked,) If that study comes back favorable, the City will want a protection letter that says that the state will share in any cleanup costs if they ever occur and that the site be donated without payment.

Then the Council had a heated exchange, something that almost never happens. Councilman Barton questioned what some past transfers were for. One was to purchase two police cars, which have been purchased. He noted that the Council never explicitly approved the purchase of those vehicles. After some discussion, Councilman Cover asked Police Chief Anderson to request the purchase of two vehicles, which he did. Cover than moved to approve the purchase of the two vehicles. The motion passed and the Council moved on.

The City's grant to the Community Crossings program was not accepted and it will reapply in January. The well house on Sparling is not yet in service and as of Monday neither was the new solar park.

In unrelated news, we missed a major snow storm on Sunday night and Monday morning. We got a bit of snow, but not the foot or so that some parts of northern Illinois received. The weather and the decorations remind us that Christmas is not too far away.
Also, Lafayette Bank and Trust will be changing its name to First Merchants Bank. Lafayette Bank and Trust has been part of First Merchants for 16 years but only now is changing its name. Other than the name change, there should be no other noticeable changes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Meetings before Thanksgiving

On Tuesday evening the Commissioners and County Council held a joint meeting to discuss items of common interest. The meeting began with a quick summary of Health Insurance. At their last meeting the Commissioners  decided to change health insurance carrier. Meetings with County employees to explain how this affects them have begun. The employees have three options from which to choose. They can keep a plan that is essentially the same as what the County has been offering, or they can choose one of two options that have higher deductibles but also much lower rates. If they choose a plan with higher deductibles, they can also start a Health Savings Account (HSA), but they have to do it themselves. There will be some expenses with runout claims, items that occur before the switch in insurance but not billed until after the switch. The County expects to save just shy of $1,000,000 from the switch.

There was a discussion of the manpower problems of the County Highway Department before their attention turned to NIPSCO and its plans to close the Wheatfield generating plant. Meetings have been scheduled and then canceled but perhaps there will be some that actually take place in the next week. The bottom line is that there are a lot of questions and no definite answers. Commissioner Culp would like to establish a task force to look at the impact the closing will have.

The negotiations between the County and PNC Bank to purchase the PNC building began in July. The deal should close in early December. The County will have to make significant modifications in the interior, including installing an elevator. There was a question of what the County will do with the parcel of land on which the Johnny Rusk building once stood. The purchase of the PNC building makes the lot redundant.

Andrew Andree had gotten some quotes for insulating the attic of the Court House. Currently there is no insulation there and a lot of heat escapes as a result. The Commissioners will decide whether to accept one of the quotes or not. The energy saving work on the Court House should be finished in a couple of months.

The County Council called its meeting to order a couple minutes after the joint meeting adjourned. It passed an ordinance to purchase the PNC Bank building. State regulations require an ordinance because the purchase was for more than $1000. The Sheriff next presented them with the annual jail report, which was a good report. He also expressed concern about the new stop sign on US 231 at the intersection of SR 16. Until people adapt to the change, there will be some who do not stop. So if you are traveling through that intersection in the next few months, be extra careful.

Then followed a long series of extra appropriations. The DLGF (Department of Local Government Finance) will not accept additional appropriations made after mid December, so this is the last meeting that they can be made. There were requests from the Sheriff, the Court, Animal Control, and the Highway Department. After these passed, there were transfers for the Surveyor, the Highway Department, the Prosecutor, the Veterans' Office, the Commissioners, and the Coroner. The transfers ranged in size from $50 to $878,118.61.

The Council passed a salary ordinance, which has to be done each year and specifies how much everyone is paid. There was a short discussion of taxes, where it was noted that Jasper County has property tax rates that are in the lowest 10% of the State and income taxes that are in the highest 10% of the State.

The third Tuesday of the month is a popular meeting day. While the County meetings were going on, the Jasper County Historical Society and the Rensselaer School Board were also meeting. The School Board approved an aviation program for 2019. Ray Seif, the Airport Manager, has been working on this program for a long time.

The Christmas street decorations are up.


The current exhibit at the Carnegie Center is the Limelight exhibit.


It is smaller this year and Cooperative School Services does not seem to be participating.

Unfortunately I did not get to the south part of town on Tuesday. The Autumn Trace development was pouring  concrete for the floor slab. On Wednesday the pour was finished but workers were busy doing something on the new concrete.
However, Autumn Trace did take pictures on Tuesday with their drone and put some of them on Facebook. See here. Even if I had been there, I could not have gotten pictures as good as what they have.

Have a Safe Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Quilt display at the Historical Society Museum

The current exhibit at the Jasper County Historical Society is an display of quilts. Many of them are privately owned and are loaned to the Museum for this exhibit.
Quilts will be the topic of the monthly meeting of the Jasper County Historical Society on Tuesday evening (Nov 20) at 6:30. Members and guests are asked to share a special family quilt with the audience. If you are interested quilting, consider going to the meeting.
 This quilt is owned by the Historical Society and was made by the Rensselaer High School class of 1936. There are 72 blocks made by the seniors that year.
 More quilts.
There are over 50 quilts on display.
This crib caught my interest because of the sign. It was given to the Simon Parr Thompson family by one of the Van Rensselaers.

I was able to zoom in on the note in the original photo (I reduce all photos for this blog so they will load quickly).
Something else that caught my interest was a map on the wall. I may have had pictures of this one in the past. A lot of street names have changed since 1908.

Today the temperatures are above freezing and most of the snow has melted. While it was in the proper state for snowballs and snowmen, my neighbors kids built a couple of small snowmen, proof that winter is here.
In news of consequence, the intersection south of town at US 231 and SR 16 will soon be a four-way stop. I wonder how many accidents have happened there in the past few decades.