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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ten years

Ten years ago I posted the first entry on Rensselaer Adventures. It was about flowers and the end of summer. You can see it here.

There are some posts that are dated earlier, but they were copied from an earlier blog I had and then dated September 5. (Blogger lets one do that.) I noted the ten-year anniversary of blogging on June 28.

Below is a picture from the County GIS site showing land owned by Farm Credit. Except for the bit of land on which its office sits, it was transferred to Farm Credit from Saint Joseph's College on September 14. I am pretty sure there is a mistake on the map. It shows that the drive to Drexel Hall and the land on which Drexel Hall sits was transferred to Farm Credit but the two tracts of farm land south of Drexel Hall remain with Saint Joe's. I suspect Farm Credit has the farm land and SJC still has Drexel Hall.
At one time SJC owned all the land from Walmart to Conagra. Except for some undeveloped lots on the road that the City recently built, it has all been sold.

Someone on a Facebook thread said the County would benefit by having the land put back on tax rolls. The farm land has been taxed for years. Only the main campus is tax exempt.

In other news, the pool is being painted and work continues on the new dog park.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

More drama at the Planning Commission

The Jasper County Planning Commission met Monday evening at the Fairgrounds with two items on their agenda. The main item, changes to the wind farm ordinance, was first and was the reason for the sizable crowd, too big for the Court House but noticeably smaller than the crowd at last month's meeting. The meeting started with a notice that the Commission would discuss the ordinance among themselves and that no public comment would be allowed until the end of the meeting.

The Commission chair, Gerrett DeVries, asked the Board for comments. The first suggestion was that the zoning for a turbine be I-1, an industrial zoning, rather than A-3 as was suggested in the revision, because turbines were not agriculture. Someone pointed out that if the zoning were changed to industrial, a lot of other things could then be placed on that land. The rational for changing from A1 or A2 to A3 was that the Planning Commission would be able to review and potentially kill any wind turbine application.

Vince Urbano said that the existing ordinance does not protect neighbors, but the proposed ordinance goes too far in the other way by effectively banning wind farms and thus does not protect those who want the turbines. He said that the Commission needs to find the right balance and produce something that the Commissioners will approve. After some discussion, Mr Urbano made the motion to have an advisory committee, with representatives from both sides of the issue, try to come to a compromise agreement. Mr DeVries stated that he wanted something passed at the meeting.

An amendment was offered that until the committee reports, no permits and no applications be allowed. The amendment passed, as did the motion to set up an advisory committee.

The second item on the agenda was a change from five years to one year in the rule regulating how often land could be split. The current rule has in some recent cases prevented reasonable activity. It passed and will go to the County Commissioners.

The floor was then open to the public. The first speaker was Kevon Martis, who addressed the Commission in June. He noted that wind farms need a capacity of at least 50 megawatts to be worthwhile for the companies. He said that wind ordinances are either de facto bans or let the companies do what they want. He also said that when the setbacks get bigger than 1.5 to 2 times the tower height, wind farm companies lose interest in the county. If he is correct, the opponents of wind farms perhaps should have argued for just one simple change, a setback of five, six, or seven times the tip height of the turbine. Their proposal had multiple provisions that would kill wind farms, which may have been a weakness in terms of getting it enacted.

The next speaker was from out of county. She said she had served on a committee similar to the one that the Commission had just authorized and that it had been an exercise in futility. I suspect she is right. On this issue the sides are too far apart to allow compromise.

A speaker from the south end of the County said that they already have the negative consequences of turbines but none of the benefits because they are just over the county line. He asked why they and the County should not get the benefits as well by allowing them at the south end of the County.

Two speakers said that they were confident that NIPSCO is planning to replace the coal generation at the Wheatfield plant with gas generation. I hope they are right.

Mr DeVries told the crowd that he wanted an outright ban to large wind turbines, which was obvious to anyone watching the proceedings. He was frustrated that the Commission had not resolved the matter that evening. He said that other commitments would cause him to step down from the chair position at the beginning of next year.

So the drama continues. Given the intensity of the opposition and the number of people who share that opposition, I suspect we will not have wind turbines in the County in the foreseeable future.

The Rensselaer Republican has a nice article on the recent Cemetery Walk. I was involved in planning and I find it difficult to write about things in which I am heavily involved.

Work on the Mt Calvary/WS 231 intersection was finished on Wednesday except for sign removal. The retaining wall is finished.
The site for the Autumn Trace project seems to have finished hauling dirt and is now installing pipes that will be below the foundation.
The weather, lawn decorations, and flowering asters remind us that summer is coming to and end. The trees, though, are still green.


Addendum:

Farm Credit is offering at auction 869.2 acres of land that was recently owned by Saint Joseph's College. It is in 11 tracts. 746.4 acres are tillable, 94.27 are wooded, and 28.48 are non-tillable. The auction will be held on Oct 29 at 6:30 pm CST in the Community Building at the Jasper Count Fairgrounds. The auctioneer is Halderman. The link is here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Graves, power, and exercise

The weather on Saturday was ideal for two events, the initial Weston Cemetery Walk and the 14th annual Oktober Fest. The Cemetery Walk had about 140-150 people attend, which was pretty much a sell-out. I was a volunteer worker and did not get any pictures (or actually go on the tour). There is a nice collection of pics here.

I did hear a lot of positive comments from those who went on the Walk. A goal of the Historical Society was to have an event that presented history in an entertaining way and that goal was met. It was also the intention to establish an annual event, and the success of this first one gets the series off to a strong start.

Oktober Fest was also well attended. I also did not take any pictures there. (If you search this blog for "OcktoberFest" you will find posts from past years with pictures.)

On Monday CDC Resources held an open house for the Laird Fitness Center, which will be open to the public. The reason that CDC Resources has a fitness center is that the majority of the clients it serves, adults with developmental disabilities, have sedentary lifestyles, getting very little physical exercise, and they suffer health consequences as a result. The Laird Center was a high priority of a previous director, Mike Cruz. It was named for Wally Laird, who years ago served on the Board of Directors and was for several years President of the Board. The Monticello Center has long had an exercise center, the Wilcoxon Fitness Center, that is open to the public, though I think it is limited to the elderly.
For a mere $10 a month you can get a pass to use the equipment at the Laird Fitness Center. One drawback may be that there are no showers available to the public.
If you missed the open house and are interested, contact CDC Resources. Their contact info is on their website.
On Monday evening the Rensselaer City Council met. A number of the items discussed were electric power related. One of Rensselaer's apprentice linemen won Apprentice of the Year from the trade group to which the City belongs. The award is named after a Frankfort apprentice who died a few years ago. The Rensselaer Republican will have the details of the award.

The electric rate tracker for the fourth quarter was a small decrease that was more than offset by an increase in an energy cost adjustment. As a result, the rate will increase by $10.17 per 1000 kilowatt hours.

There are several events that will highlight Public Power Week. There will be a ribbon cutting for the new solar park on October 9 at 1:15. The entry to the ribbon cutting is through the Madison subdivision. (From Wood Road turn south on Franklin Street.) On October 10 the power plant will have an open house from 10:00 to 2:00. It will be a chance to see the equipment that is housed there. Normally the public is not allowed in the building.

In other business, the Council passed its budget for 2019. It made an amendment for the salary ordinance to accommodate some job title changes in the Police Department. It approved the purchase of a skid loader for $64,354.21 that will be paid by the four utilities. The old loader is starting to have issues and will be traded in.

An item that should be of public interest was the establishment of trick or treat hours. They will be Sunday, October 28, from 5:00 till 8:00. These are the same hours that were previously established for the Trunk or Treat event at the Fairgrounds.

The City Attorney announced that negotiations for purchase of land for a future well site will now be conducted with Farm Credit, not Saint Joseph's College.

The Jasper County Planning Commission meeting from Monday night will be the subject of a future post.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Two big announcements

A couple of important and big announcements were made on Wednesday. First, SJC announced that it had reached an agreement with its main creditor to restructure its debt. The terms of the agreement remain confidential, but SJC will retain its campus, Lake Banet, and some surrounding property in addition to the Waugh Farms (which it cannot legally sell).

In an article in the Lafayette Journal and Courier, Michael Kohlman said that the debt was not wiped out but some remains, but the College officials think it is manageable. Also, the College will lose land as a result.

The agreement will allow the College to use the campus for sports camps and other events. What comes next is unclear. The goal of reopening as a college faces serious headwinds because the college market is in trouble. The rise of on-line education has one Harvard Business professor predicting that half of the nation's colleges will fold or be merged in the next ten years. In the past week another college in Indiana closed. Harrison College, with branches in several places including Lafayette, shut down.

A much bigger announcement came out this week from NIPSCO. It had been planning to shut down two of the four generating units at the Schahfer Plant near Wheatfield, but is now saying that it plans to shut down all four units no later than 2023. County officials have been concerned about the impact of just the two units on County finances; NIPSCO pays about 20% of the property taxes in the County. The closure of the Schahfer Plant is likely to have a much bigger adverse effect on the County than the closure of Saint Joseph's College.

In a FAQ of September 19, NIPSCO says that "the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) must approve any requests for electric generation unit retirements", so a shutdown by 2023 is not certain. As to where the electricity will come from to replace that lost by the closing of the Schahfer Plant, the company says, "Likely replacement options point toward lower-cost renewable energy resources such as wind, solar and battery storage technology," and "Replacement plans for the retired coal generating units are still being evaluated.  Currently, the most viable replacement options point toward the addition of largely renewable energy resources, with the combination of battery storage technology. "

I do not believe that the current economics of renewables and battery storage justify the closure, but NIPSCO seems to be betting that those economics will be much better in five years. Currently if you wish to get "green" energy from NIPSCO, you must pay extra. (This option is for people who do not realize that electricity is fungible.)

My last post raised the question of who is building the assisted-living complex east of Strack and Van Til. The owner is Autumn Trace. The company currently operates two similar facilities, one in Attica and the other in Linton. There are four others under construction, in Madison, North Vernon, Plymouth, and Rensselaer. If I remember correctly, the owners of the company said that they had sold a retirement-home business but then decided to get back in the business. The fact that they sold an existing business would give them the funds and credibility to have four units under construction.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Updates and flint knapping

Work continues on the Mt Calvary Road/US 231 intersection. The edge of the hill on which the Cemetery rests has been trimmed and a retaining wall is being added.
 Below is a view from the other side. The Cemetery sits on a sand ridge.
 Paving seems to be compete.

More sand or stone was being delivered to the construction site of the assisted living complex south of Fountain Stone. A truck full of stone seems to be a lot of stone, but the volume looks less impressive when it is smoothed out.
 Truckloads of stone are being delivered to the dog park construction site on Bunkum Road. Below is the site early on Tuesday.
 A bit later in the day after more stone had been delivered, the blue pipe had become a culvert. Stone was still being hauled on Wednesday morning.
Other parking lots that are having work done are those of the Rensselaer Library (seal coating) and St. Augustine Church (repaving). Work on the St Augustine parking lot has been delayed because the milling machine is not yet available.

On Tuesday a combine was harvesting the beans along Sparling Avenue.
 One place that will not be involved in the harvest this year is the large grain elevator in Remington. It has ceased operations.
 On Tuesday evening the Jasper County Historical Society's program was on Indian artifacts and flint knapping, the process in which the Indian artifacts were made. Giving a demonstration was a 16-year old from White County who has been flint knapping for eight years. Watching him work the rock gives one an appreciation for the skill of stone-age tool makers.
Flint and chert differ from location to location and people who study Indian stone tools can identify not only the culture from which they came but also the site of where the stone was mined. Jasper County has some flint but it is hard to work so little was done with it. There is an outcrop of better stone around Attica and many arrow heads found locally are from that material. Some of the items found locally are from other sources, some quite distant.

The Historical Society had a dress rehearsal of the Weston Cemetery Walk on Sunday and everyone who has parts to play seems to be ready for the public performance, which will be on Saturday at 2:00. Those attending will be divided into groups and each group will start at a different station and then rotate through the other seven stations. At each station there will be a reenactor who will tell fascinating stories of rich men, poor men, tragic deaths, triumphant lives, pioneer families, anonymous graves, majestic tombstones, and much, much more.
Tickets cost $10 and are available at Willow Switch, Brown's, and Jordans. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

A few pictures, 9-2018

Work has begun for a dog park on Bunkum Road where several City water wells were once located. The fence and trees along the road have been removed and dirt is being moved to prepare for a parking lot. This will be the first project finished for the Parks for People campaign.
 On Friday I noticed digging in the driveway behind St. Augustine's Church. I stopped and asked what they were doing. The parking lot will be repaved and a hole had developed in the driveway because an old fuel oil tank, once used for heating, had not been filled properly. The workers were filling it so the driveway would not have a void beneath it.
 St. Augustine now uses natural gas for heating, as does most of Rensselaer. It originally used coal, as did most of Rensselaer, and it still has the coal chute door.

The Amber Waves festival is tomorrow. On Friday much of it had been set up to the east of the grandstand area.  It looks like it will be a really big event. The parking that has been marked out will handle hundreds of cars. There is a stage and multiple musical groups are scheduled.
 The tents from  a different angle. It should be a fun time for fans of craft beer.
September has a lot of area festivals. One that will not be occurring this year is Wheatfield's Sandhill Crane festival. Road construction had delays from an unmarked natural gas pipeline and the festivals organizers thought it best not to have the festival this year.

Update: The St. Augustine's parking lot has been resurfaced. The fuel tank had been filled properly but the fill pipe had not been removed when they took the top off the tank and filled it. There was a small void around that fill pipe and that was what was causing the problems with the driveway. Now the fill pipe has been removed and the space it occupied has been filled with sand.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ribbon cutting and open house at the new police station

On Wednesday afternoon the new police station had its ribbon cutting and an open house.
There were refreshments for those who stopped by. While I was there, most of the people checking out the new station were city employees. The room shown below is the conference room that will also be used for training. It is behind the mayor in the picture above. Normally the door to it from the outside will be locked. The public should enter the door at the corner of the building if they have business with the police department.
 In addition to cookies, the refreshment table included a decorated cake. Blue punch in the party fountain was an attractive touch.

After the ribbon cutting and a stop for a cookie or bite of cake, the people who were there could take a guided tour. Leaving the conference room, entered a hallway parallel to the highway. There are restrooms off this hallway and as one walks west, two offices. One is the office for the police chief. It has a window, one of the few windows in the building.
 The other office is for two officers, a sergeant and a detective.
At the end of this hallway is a door to the dispatch room. It was locked and we did not go in. Rather we turned and walked along the hallway that is parallel to Harrison. On one side is a door to the office shown above (and it is through this door the picture was taken. Along on the west side of the hallway is the squad room with desks for the police officers.
 At the end of the hallway is a break room. Opposite this was a door to the upstairs and the evidence room, which we were not allowed to visit.
 Rather we walked through the women's locker room to reach the weight room.
Some of the equipment here came from the sale of SJC equipment.
 The room contains an impressive display of weights.
 We exited the weight room by going back to the hallway through the men's locker room. I am pretty sure that the weight room can only be accessed through the locker rooms.
 We backtracked, passing the conference room and a small room that can be used for interviews or interrogations. There are no windows but there is a camera so others outside the room can watch what is happening in the room.
 We entered a long, tall room that retains the doors that were used by the fire department. This allows a police car to discharge people inside the building. Notice the doors above the people on the left. Our guide said that they were very useful when moving things over from the old police station. They used a fork lift to lift items up to the level of the door.
 There is no holding cell or room in the new building, though there was one in their previous location.

After these first tours had ended, Reverend Ben Hertel of St Luke Lutheran Church blessed the building with several readings and invocations. He is a chaplain for the Police Department.
Leaving the building, I walked over to the reception area that was not on the tour but is where the public will normally enter the station. There is a dispatcher or communications officer behind the glass window that anyone entering will speak to.
 There is a restroom off this entry and also a small room that can be used for interviews. It looks a lot like the other interview room.
As I left, other people were arriving and more tours were being given.
It was a fun visit. I hope I will never have to visit on a police matter.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Council meetings, short and long

The Rensselaer City Council met for a very short meeting on Monday night. They opened by approving the closure of a bit of Harrison Street for the Eagles fish fry on Sept 29. Then they opened a public hearing on the budget. I was the only one in the room whose name had not been called with the roll call. I had nothing to say so the public hearing closed and the Council passed the budget.

There were several other budget items. They approved an ordinance that reduced appropriations for this yeas by $213,661 to help fund next year's budget. They also approved three transfers of funds. The largest was for the Park Department to be used to paint the LaRue Pool.

The gas tracker for September will be a 3.5¢ increase per hundred cubic feet. The Project Coordinator has been working on the grant proposal for a Community Crossings, the state program for local road improvement. He also noted that the State had been paving at the Mt Calvary/US 231 intersection. There were a few other items of limited public interest.

On Wednesday City workers were removing the playground equipment just to the north of Staddon Field.
The slide was next.

Unlike the City Council meeting, Tuesday's Jasper County Council meeting, held a week earlier than usual, was very long. The main order of business was passing the budget. The Chairman read the budget, which you can find here.

Next up was a report from Umbaugh. The spokeswoman noted that the 2019 income tax revenue will be minimally less than the previous year, but there is a two year lag in determining the numbers, so what will be given to the County in 2019 is based on what was collected in 2017. The County has had an 18% growth in assessed valuation since 2010. The amount of money coming to the County from the increase gas tax is less than anticipated because the legislature took a bunch of the money back for State use at the last session. The projections that spokeswoman presented all looked dismal, but were based on the assumption that the County would spend all the money it appropriates. The County, however, has a history of appropriating more money than it spends.

The Council then reviewed and approved budgets of four public groups that are not under its direct control. First was the Rensselaer Central School Corporation. They are reclassifying some items in their budget, so it is hard to compare next year's budget with this year's. Over the past ten years the school corporation has had a steady decline in enrollment but early indications are that this year enrollment may hold steady. The Board prepared the budget expecting a drop of about 20 students. The HVAC system at Van Rensselaer may need to be replaced soon. It is nearing end of life.

The Airport Authority kept is operating budget flat. May 10 will be the next Aviation Career Day. This year it attracted about 1000 students.

The Northwest Indiana Solid Waste District receives no tax funding but is entirely funded from tipping fees from landfills in White and Newton Counties. It serves six counties and because Jasper has the largest assessed valuation, Jasper is the county that approves its budget. It will have a hazardous waste collection at the Jasper County Highway garage on the morning of September 22.

The Iroquois River Conservancy kept its budget the same. In addition to keeping the river free from downed trees, it also works to keep farm chemicals out of the river.

The Sheriff then repeated his plea for change in the pension plan that he had earlier given to the Commissioners. At present pension accumulation stops at 20 years of service and the result is that the most a retiree can get is 50% of salary as a pension. This gives deputies an incentive to quit when they reach 20 years and training costs for new deputies are high. Nothing was done at this meeting, but the issue will be back on the agenda. At the very end of the meeting, when most people had left and the floor was open to public comments, Adam Alson who before moving back to Jasper County had worked at a large NY bank, gave a statement that noted that the pension had been fully funded in 2008. Today it is only 68% funded. The reason for the shortfall is that the rate of return on the assets in the fund has been extremely low, about 1%, while the expected rate of return was about 6%. Many other defined-benefit pension funds have suffered from assuming a too-high rate of return. He noted that increasing the accumulation years to 26 will substantially increase the unfunded liabilities of the plan and this will affect the County's balance sheet.

The Coroner was back again asking for an additional appropriation for autopsies. This year there have been an unusually large number of autopsies. Part of the increase comes from the State requiring more autopsies in an effort to get a handle on the opioid problem.

The Council approved a few other additional appropriations before it adjourned.

A couple weeks ago I took a picture of a soybean field with gold leaves. The same field has lost its leaves.
Work moving dirt continues at the construction site for the proposed assisted living apartments.

Finally, I saw a post and picture on Facebook announcing that Benton County was now home to the largest on-land wind turbine in the Western Hemisphere with a picture, but post has disappeared. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Gordon wrecks Little Cousin Jasper

The remnants of tropical storm Gordon arrived on Friday and stayed for Saturday. We were on the northern fringes of the area affected, so we got light rain and drizzle that lasted for much of two days. Because the rain was light, the ground was able to absorb it and the river has hardly risen. I am not sure how much rain we got.

Though the rain was light, it had a big effect on the Little Cousin Jasper Festival. Cold and wet are not ideal conditions for people to get out and walk around. The parade scheduled for noon on Saturday was canceled. Some booths never set up. It had to be very disappointing for the people who worked so hard organizing and preparing the festival.
 There was a car show on Saturday but I saw only about twenty cars. The weather must have affected this as well.
 Most or all of the acts scheduled were a go. Olga the violinist was terrific but her audience was small. Who wants to set on wet bleachers in the rain?
 The "win-a-bunny" booth was back. I talked to some kids who won a bunny but their mother nixed the idea of bringing one home.
The rain had stopped by Sunday morning and perhaps some of the people who had stayed home on Friday and Saturday decided to make a visit.  The Jesse White Tumblers from Chicago performed to a decent audience.
 On Saturday the annual Rensselaer Cross Country Invitational was held. At one time this was one of the big high-school cross country meets in northwestern Indiana but over the years the number of high school teams attending has gradually dwindled. As the high-school part of the meet was shrinking, the middle-school part was growing to become a major middle-school meet. This year the high-school races were eliminated and the meet became a middle-school-only meet.
Cool and misty weather might be bad for a festival, but it is not a problem for cross country. Cool weather is much better than hot and humid for runners.
The Rensselaer girls did exceptionally well.

The Jasper County Art League's exhibit, Through The Window, had its opening reception on Friday evening. The theme was windows and most of the pictures had a clear window theme—pictures framing the work or pictures taken or painted looking through a window. One omission I noticed was that no one used computer windows as the framing device for their pictures. If I had the talent to enter something, I would have done a picture something like one below.
(I like tessellations.)