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

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ribbon cutting at NITCO

On Thursday afternoon NITCO had a ribbon cutting for its new office in what was the Blockbuster store.
 The interior has a completely different look than the offices of the former Rensselaer TV Cable, which NITCO purchased either at the end of last year or the start of this year.
 One of the NITCO people said that the building had been vacant for seven years. I knew that was not correct. Here is a post from June, 2016 mentioning the end of Blockbuster's going-out-of-business sale.

After the ribbon cutting, the president of the company made a few short remarks about how happy the company was to be in Rensselaer (they have been serving DeMotte and Mount Ayr) and how important broadband Internet is for the future of rural America. Later I asked one the NITCO officials how Rensselaer was connected to the Internet. There are connections both to Indianapolis and to Chicago, so there is redundancy. If one link is disrupted, our service should not be.

Here is a post about the last ribbon cutting I attended at this building. It is rather ironic that an Internet service provider is moving into the space that was last used for DVD rentals. The DVD rental market was squashed by streaming over the Internet.

A new Mexican restaurant will soon open at what used to be Martin's. The sign is up but the windows are still covered in paper.
 On Thursday morning part of the sidewalk along Milroy was being poured.
 I had been wondering what the sidewalk would look like along Sparling where a connection was needed between a sidewalk close to the street and one further back. The forms on Thursday morning showed how they made the connection. By the end of the day this section had been poured.
On Thursday morning the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA, pronounced Pita boa) met for the first time this year. The three members were sworn in and they elected a president and vice president. There were no appeals but the Board did approve several tax exemptions. Privately-owned cemeteries must file for an exemption every two years and they approved three of those. A church which had purchased an adjacent lot had that lot taken off the tax rolls. A landlord had the portion of property rented to the Indiana Department of Child Services exempted—I believe that DCS increased the amount of space it was using. In Remington what was Treasure Keepers is now Growing Patch and the organization running it changed its name to Seeds of Promise, and those changes prompted a request to continue the exemption. The meeting lasted about 15 minutes.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Ten year anniversary

I started blogging ten years ago, on June 28, 2008. My first post was not even a real post--it was a link to a bit of humor I had on my website about how I raised gas prices. My first blog was not Rensselaer Adventures but rather Cybereconomics. I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do by blogging, but my daughter had started a blog and her decision prompted me to do the same.

I started the Rensselaer Adventures blog in September. I do not remember why I started it, but I suspect that I had found that I wanted to limit my posting on the Cybereconomics blog to items that were somehow connected to economics and have a different place for items that were only of local interest. The number of posts on the Cybereconomics blog peaked in 2009 and then faded away, with the most recent post there nearly two years ago. When I began the Rensselaer Adventures blog, I moved over several items from the Cybereconomics blog and they were my first posts.

At the beginning my readership was only friends and acquaintances but readership slowly grew as more people discovered the blog. Google was one way people could find the blog--if they googled for a local topic I had covered, they might find the blog. In 2010 I tried to get more people to visit the blog by creating a Facebook page called Rensselaer Adventures and began to post a link to each blog post. The graph below, which gives monthly page views, shows that the number of visits to the blog increased until 2017. (Even though the graph does not include the months prior to June, 2010, there were visitors during those months.) Facebook referrals are the number one source of visitor traffic, with Google searches far behind. The downturn after 2017 may be partially due to the new way Facebook prioritizes what users see.

Below the graph is a list of the five most viewed posts to appear on the blog--flood pictures seem to be popular.

In the early years I tried to limit each post to one topic. I no longer do that and posts often jump from one topic to something completely unrelated. Hence, you cannot really tell what is in the post from the title. Content has drifted as my interest have changed. One huge change occurred in 2013 when I began to attend public meetings. Now without posts on meetings I would have little to write.

Blogging has been a fun adventure that has taken me to a lot of events that I otherwise would never have attended and allowed me meet a lot of people who I otherwise would never have met. I do not know how much longer the blog will remain alive, but I am 99.73% certain that I will not be writing about a twentieth year anniversary of blogging.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Long meetings

We got heavy rains late last week, five or six inches on Thursday and Friday, with most of it coming on Friday. We had flash flood warnings and water over a lot of streets. There is still standing water in some fields, and Weston Lake has partially reformed, much to the delight of frogs and toads. A lot of people had water in their basements, which is not surprising given how much rain came down in a short period. The rain on Friday was in a narrow band that trained over Rensselaer. Because most of the Iroquois watershed did not get nearly as much, the river never hit flood stage. (For serious flooding, recall June of 2015 where the river hit record highs for many days.)

One building, a building that has a Front Street address but fronts on an alley, had a partial roof collapse. It only recently got a new owner.
There were three meetings on Monday evening, one quite short and the other two very long. The short meeting was the Rensselaer City Council meeting, which was not only short but uneventful. There was a transfer of funds and a postponement of a discussion of changing job classifications. The Council gave approval to the Project Manager to seek bids for some kind of loader. The existing machine is a 1995 model and is again having mechanical problems. A citizen voiced concerns about speeding on East Grace and flooding in that area. It was noted in that discussion that rain gutters are not supposed to be connected to the City's sewer system--there is an ordinance against that.

There was an update on the new police station which is nearing completion. There will be fireworks at the Fairground this Saturday after dusk. The City has a new recycling trailer and it has been on the route for a couple weeks. The water main for Well #8 has been tied into the water treatment plant. The well building has been ordered and should be installed in a couple of weeks. The contractor is finishing up work on sidewalks. (On Tuesday they were working on a section along Milroy.)
The long meetings were the County BZA and Plan Commission meetings that were held at the fairgrounds to a large audience.
The only items on the BZA agenda were for a proposed hog farm in Jordan Township. Last month the Plan Commission had approved a recommendation to the Commissioners to rezone the property from A1 to A3, a necessary step before anything else can be done. (That matter will probably be on the agenda of the July 2 Commissioners meeting.) The project still needed a special exception, needed for any confined feeding operation. The presentation from the hog farm was essentially the same as what they gave to the Plan Commission last month. After much discussion and some citizen comments, the variance passed. However, one of the findings of facts had a tie vote, and this stopped the proceedings for the setbacks. (The ordinance requires that any confined feeding operation be set at certain distances from other properties and county roads. If it is not within those limits, it must get a variance.) I was surprised at this because I do not understand why the problem with the setbacks was not also a problem for the variance. The Board huddled with its lawyer about how to proceed. The Attorney was given ten days to research the matter. It may be that the item will be on the agenda of the next Plan Commission meeting; if all five members had been present, there should not have been a tie.

The many citizens attending were seeing local government in action. I am not sure that they were seeing it at its best.

The Plan Commission met next. The first item on their agenda was moved to the July meeting. The next item was a proposal to subdivide a twenty-acre lot in Wheatfield township into four five-acre lots. There was concern from a couple of neighbors about how big the houses would be--they did not want cheap housing going in that would depress the value of their homes. Since the owners of the lots want to sell them and not develop them, no one knows what kind of houses will be built there, but one does not expect a cheap house to go onto an expensive plot of land. Eventually this item got bogged down in a discussion of how often a lot could be subdivided. There were conflicting regulations in the UDO. So motion was made and passed to table it until the attorney looks at the matter.

The next item was a review of the wording for CAFO setbacks. At the last Plan Commission meeting, the Commission had passed a recommendation for the Commissioners to change the setbacks for CAFOs. Jasper County had among the most stringent in the state, and they were drastically reduced. However, the motion was not in the form of a re-wording of the appropriate section of the UDO. A couple of people had worked on that wording, but had not given copies before the meeting to the members of the Commission. As they thought about the wording, they also thought about the setbacks and after more discussion, they voted to rescind the motion that they had passed in the previous meeting. They changed the setback from the foundations of the CAFO to the property line to either 400 or 500 feet (I thought I heard both numbers). That will now go to the Commissioners who have ultimate say on what is in the UDO.

Finally it was time for the presentation that most of the audience had come to hear. The presentation was arranged by the Pulaski-Jasper Property Rights organization, a new organization formed to fight the wind-farm proposed by RES. They had invited Kevon Martis from Michigan. He gave a speech that was similar to this one on youtube.

He argued that wind this far east is not nearly as strong as that further west. He had a slide showing how much aid various forms of energy get from government subsidies and tax credits. Wind gets a lot but not nearly as much as solar gets. As for county regulations, he argues for substantial setbacks but people who own property within those limits can negotiate with the wind companies to grant the wind companies a waiver. In other words, anyone within the setbacks must agree to allow the wind turbine.

The meeting adjourned shortly before 11:00 pm. Tomorrow a special post.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer Solstice 2018

The Jasper County Council met on Tuesday evening for their June meeting. The main item on the agenda was an additional appropriation for Jasper County Economic Development and the Tourism Council for a donation to the Rensselaer Parks For People Campaign. The Tourism Council had over the past few months been reviewing a request from the Parks For People Campaign and had decided to donate $175,000. However, that item was not in the budget that the Council had approved for them so they needed Council approval to make the donation.

There was concern on the Council about the size of the proposed donation. The money would come from the innkeeper tax and any expenditures of this money must be justified from a tourism perspective. Since the innkeeper tax was approved, the amount spent has always been less than the amount collected, so there is currently a balance of $342,000 available. The argument that the Parks For People proponents made is that the addition of three excellent ballfields at Brookside Park and the renovation of the existing ball field would make the complex attractive for tournaments and tournaments draw in people from outside the county. There are estimates of how much the average person drawn in spends based on what happens at some other tournament sites and those numbers seemed to justify the project.

There also was concern on the Council about the large amount going to one of the four communities of the County, although it seems to me that this grant would set a precedent that those other communities could use in the future. Mr Norwine made a motion to grant $50,000 but the motion died for lack of a second. Mr DeVries suggested that even $50,000 was too much. When the the discussion was opened to the audience, someone suggested that enough be given to make sure the state matching grant of $50,000 was obtained. However, the state matching grant only matches any single gift up to $10,000. The proponents of the grant argued that this was a special opportunity to do something that would have a long-run impact and should not be compared to the much smaller annual grants that the Tourism Commission gives to festivals. Finally Mr Risner made a motion to approve a grant of $10,000 with the understanding that the issue would be reviewed at the next meeting. Before the vote Mr Andree said he thought that was too small and that a grant of about $100,000 would be the right amount. The motion for $10,000 passed with two nays.

During the remainder of the meeting, the Council heard from the County Highway Department, which had intended to ask for an additional appropriation but changes in what the State wants for their matching grants changed the request. It will come up again in the July meeting. The Council reviewed tax abatements but the vote on them will be in July. They noted that several were in their final years and that no new abatements have been authorized for several years. They heard a brief review of the energy saving/capital expenditure project with Honeywell. The next meeting will be on July 24 at 7:00 but there will be a joint meeting with the Commissioners before that meeting, at 6:00.

On Thursday we got much needed rain. There were a lot of dark clouds and thunder on Tuesday but only an insignificant amount of rain. Thankfully the brutal heat and humidity of last weekend are gone.
LGS Plumbing continues landscaping the sidewalk along Sparling. The sidewalk has some curves in it.
It seems to be a sidewalk to nowhere. SJC is closed as is the Youth Center.
Also closing is Greene's Furniture, with less than two weeks remaining before shutdown. The Antique Mall will be open until the end of July.

Another sidewalk under construction is the short segment that connects the sidewalk in Potawatomie Park to College Avenue.
It appears that all the solar panels have been installed in the new solar farm.
Enjoy a cool Summer Solstice.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Coffee

Rensselaer's littlest coffee shop is now open. It is located between Riley's law office and what was once a bank building and now houses Consolidated Insurance.
 The shop opened on Friday. I took several pictures, most of which did not turn out. Here you can see the seating area.
 At one time this space was a little diner and there are people who remember it from those days. If you have a picture from its diner days, the owners would like to see it.

Below is their preliminary menu. In a week or so they will be adding some food items and also have a printed menu. I am not a coffee drinker, so I cannot comment on their offerings.
 The owner is quite passionate about coffee and for some years roasted coffee. If you want to have a discussion about technical details of the coffee business, stop by.

The weather this weekend will be uncomfortably hot and there should be a lot of people at the pool.
There has not been a lot happening in Rensselaer that I have noticed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

City Council notes June 12

At Monday's City Council meeting, Ryan Musch of Embers Venue requested that a small section of Front Street be closed on July 21 for the Whiskey & Whiskers event. The event featuring four local distilleries and live music from Remember Jones will raise money to support the Jasper County Animal Shelter. The Council approved his request.

There was not a lot on the published agenda. The Police Department requested a change in the alarm contract. I gathered from the short discussion that this was to raise the fee for people who have an alarm that sounds with the local police. The gas tracker for June had an unusually large increase of 19.5¢ per hundred cubic feet. There was a slight decrease in the electric tracker for the third quarter.

The Safe Kid Halloween event will take place on Sunday, October 28 and if I understood that motion correctly, the Halloween Tricks-and -Treating hours will be on that day from 5:00 to 7:00. The Council also approved a motion to have the mayor sign a contract with INDOT for Amtrak payments. The City will pay $351.96 per month to help subsidize the Amtrak service to Rensselaer.

The Police Department may be able to move into their newly remodeled building in six weeks. The Sparling Well project is about 55% completed and the sidewalks are about 70% finished. The Parks For People Campaign is off to a good start in meeting its $50,000-in-50-days challenge grant, have raised about $18,500 in the first 11 days.

The wet and rainy weather we have been having has limited my pictures. Here is a look from last week at the progress on the solar farm.
I have noticed a number of interesting items over in Newton County. Their Council and Commissioners are considering an innkeeper tax. They are one of only 13 Indiana Counties that does not have the tax. The revenues must be used to support tourism. There are several zoning/land-use issues that are controversial. A dairy is being proposed for a site of about 2000 acres adjacent to the Nature Conservancy property. Normally a confined feeding operation on such a big parcel would not be expected to generate much opposition, but there is concern about water table contamination. Another property use issue is the possibility of an 800-bed immigration detention center that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) may want to build in Roselawn area. Apparently ICE wanted to build the facility in Lake County and would not get a needed variance. Finally, S&S Farms is appealing the BZA denial for a special exception to build a specialty swine CAFO. What I do not understand about this case is that after Newton County denied them, they received approval in Jasper County. If they intend to build in Jasper, why appeal a decision in Newton?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mostly pictures

Work continues on the sidewalk along Sparling. On Thursday concrete was being poured at the north end of the street. The long stretch from the substation to the end of the field is complete, though I suspect there will be some soil added because right now there is quite a drop from the sidewalk.
 The contractors for the water main finally found the leak in the line. It was under a driveway near Grove Street. They bored that section of the line so they would not have to rip up driveways, but in the end they still ripped up part of one.
 More trees are coming down in Weston Cemetery.
 Unfortunately most of the trees in the west end were/are ash trees and they are dead or dying.
On Thursday the City was working on a short bit of trail that will connect the sidewalk in Potawatomie Park with College Avenue.
 Netco has moved into its new office in what had been Blockbuster.
 Greene's Furniture is holding their going-out-of-business sale. It should last for a few more weeks.
 There is still quite a bit left, but there is also a lot of empty space, especially in the back rooms.
 Forever.
On a positive note, the second Habitat-for-Humanity in the Blacker Village is nearing completion. It has a nice porch.

On Tuesday evening the Jasper County Council reconvened a meeting continued from May 14 to approve funding for the energy-savings/capital-expenditure project with Honeywell. They approved the funding and it will come from the rainy-day fund. The contract that the Commissioners had signed on Monday did not take effect until the Council approved funding.

The Council also agree to continue using Umbaugh for financial planning but put a cap of $7500 for the services. The meeting was lightly attended.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Monday's meetings

On Monday the Commissioners met for their June meeting with a short agenda. They signed a final contract with Honeywell for a $2.2 million dollar energy-savings/capital-expenditure project that has been discussed both in Commissioner meetings and Council meetings for several months. The energy savings part of the project is smaller than the capital expenditure, which will replace heating and cooling equipment in the Court House. The goal is to get new boilers installed and operating before this coming fall. They also agree to $1.1 million dollar prepayment so that contractors can get supplies ordered.

The Sheriff reported on a Trailblazer that is being retired from his department and will be going to the Veterans' Council for transporting vets to medical appointments. He said that four new squad cars are on order and were expected in April. They may arrive at the end of this month. He also reported on current and expected vacancies. He noted that there were only two applicants for a correctional officer.

The surveyor wanted approval for a base station agreement. A base station is something that is used by surveyors and others, and more than that, I do not understand. The company offered the station for free to the surveyor, hoping to sell subscriptions to others who might use it.

The insurance costs for the county will rise by about 3% this year after several years of decrease. The cost depends heavily on past claims.

The Jasper County Youth Center will be closing June 15. I had heard this rumor but did not find confirmation until this meeting. The County owns the building and hopes that it will be able to reopen under new management. Apparently the cause of closing is financial.

After a number of other minor items, the meeting was recessed, waiting for a consultant for a discussion of roads. I left.

On Monday afternoon the Drainage Board met with a very long agenda. The only item I found interesting was a drainage proposal for a new motel at the Remington/Wolcott exit of I-65. It will have the same owner as the Holiday Inn Express Comfort Suites at the Rensselaer exit and be about the same size. It will have 68 units and 15 suites.

The Rensselaer Park Board met in the evening. It heard from Tracy Cochran, the Community Wellness Coordinator with the Extension Office. Her goal is to help make active living possible and her focus is on nutrition and exercise. The Board also discussed the problems of Pop Warner, which is currently looking for a place to play games. It had been at SJC and has not found a school willing to host them. The Park Board did not know how football would fit with soccer, which wants to use the same field.

The pool at Brookside Park will open this Friday.

I left the Park Board meeting before it concluded to go across the street and see what was happening at a special meeting of the Jasper County Plan Commission. They had a standing-room-only audience. The item on the agenda was a rezone from A1 to A3, needed for the proposed confined swine feeding operation from Interstate Family Farms, LLC. Attorney Don Shelman outlined the proposed project. It will have 4100 sows and 900 giving birth or about to give birth. There would also be an average of 3000 piglets at the facility, but they are counted as part of the mother for state regulation purposes. The facility will cost about $10 million and will employ about 20 people. The site is in Jordan township, north west of CR 1200 S and 880 W. It will be on 40 acres that are set back from the roads, and the project will or has purchased 20 acres that will give access to the site from 880W. The soil on the site is sandy and before this project, was being put into conservation acres. The project will consist of five buildings, three large buildings that will hold hogs at various stages of the breeding cycle, a small office building, and a mortality building where any dead animals and tissue such as placenta will be composted with cow manure. This composting is the way IDEM wants dead animals handled.

Manure from the operation will be piped to adjacent fields and will be knifed or injected into the soil. Putting the manure under the top of the soil both preserves nutrients and greatly reduces odor. Water will come from a well capable of producing 50 gallons per minute and the farm will use about 24 gallons per minute. The nearest residence is 3900 feet to the south. A report from a Purdue expert on farm odor estimated that the odor cone would not affect any of the residences.

There was considerable comment. Major concerns were about wells, odor, and traffic. The zone of non-sulfur water is apparently quite thin, and people within a couple miles voiced concerns. However, there are state regulations that provide some protection. The owners of Carpenter Creek Winery were concerned that odor could reduce visitors, two thirds of whom come from outside Jasper County. They were also concerned that residue containing sulfur might attach to their grapes and alter the flavor of their wine.

After an hour and forty five minutes, the Commission voted to recommend to the Commissioners to rezone the property from A1 to A3. There was one vote against. The project will need to get Drainage Board clearance and may also need a variance for setback from the BZA.

A small fact of hog production: the breeding life of a sow is about two and a half to three years. After that, she goes to market.

Now for some pictures. SJC is making hay.
Workers are pouring concrete for the sidewalk along Sparling.

However, there are still some holes where you can see the water main, so it seems that not all the problems with it have been resolved.

The Brewery had music entertainment Saturday and a large crowd.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Trailhead ribbon cutting

On Saturday morning there was a ribbon cutting for a new trailhead in Potawatomie Park.

 The ribbon cutting was the local participation in National Trails Day. Below is a better picture of the trailhead marker. It is not finished. There are similar markers planned for Brookside Park and near Staddon Field. As part of this trailhead, there will be a new sidewalk that will connect the sidewalks in Potawatomie Park to the sidewalks along College Avenue.
 The Parks for People Campaign has just announced that they have received a $50,000 matching grant. However, they will not receive the $50,000 unless they match it with donations of $50,000 in the next 50 days. If you have been considering donating and have not done so yet, now is a good time to make the donation.

Following the ribbon cutting, there was a Park Hop Walk/Run that took people across the bowstring bridge, along the river on the alley, north on Washington to Lincoln, along Lincoln till Abigail, then via Jackson to Brookside Park. The walkers (there was only one runner registered) followed the Creek to Clark, along Clark to the north entrance, then into the Park onto the Redbud Trail to the track. From the track the route took them through Weston Cemetery to the Talbert Bridge, then onto Washington to Milroy Park and the new trail there, and finally back to Potawatomie Park.

The morning was pleasantly cool, a welcome change after some very hot days. Also welcome was the rain we got a couple days ago. It will keep the grass growing.

Progress in the construction of the solar farm changes the appearance there almost every day. Many boxes have been delivered.
The view above is from the north entrance. Below is a view from the south end. It is very hard to see what is happening because there are no good view points.
 I noticed that Midway Electronics has a new tower. I saw that they had submitted the application for this tower months ago and was hoping to get some pictures of its construction, but I missed it.
I keep checking to see what is happening along Sparling with the water main. There is still an open hole (its been there for over a week) so I suspect that the company is still testing the pipe for leaks.
NETNITCO has moved to new offices in what was the Blockbuster building.

Update: Congratulations to the RCHS girls track team, which finished 29th in the state track meet, one point and ten inches ahead of North White.