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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

But not in that order. First the borrowed. The picture below was sent to me by Chris Kosary on Tuesday.

He explains:
I caught this a couple of minutes ago and snapped a couple of pictures.
This is the railroad crossing at McKinley with Rensselaer Iron in the background.
What has happened is that one of the joiner bars that link the rail together snapped in the cold spell last week and it is being replaced.  The gentleman in the picture told me that instead of sending out a crew with a multi-ton machine that could stretch the rail back into position, he was just doing it "old school" by laying out a product called a "Flame Snake" (like a rope soaked in a flammable oil-Yellow and red can in one of the images).  He then lighted it to warm the rail up so it would expand and the holes of the new joiner would match up again.
It made a lot of smoke but looked pretty cool.  There is still room for doing things the tried and true way sometimes.

Something new is a sign for Valley Oaks, which until recently was Wabash Valley Alliance. It is located kitty-corner from Royal Oaks--hopefully no one will confuse the two Oaks. The picture was also taken on Tuesday.

I saw the sign as I was checking progress on the Autumn Trace apartments. The Autumn Trace Facebook page has some recent pictures that show that except for a section on the north, the roof is complete. The commentary says that workers are starting to install drywall.

Somethings blue come from the Annual Regional Upper Elementary Art Show that is currently in the Fendig Gallery. It features art by third through fifth graders from several area schools.




Finally for something old. Here is an newspaper article from 1912 announcing that the electric utility would begin 24-hour service. I had never realized that early on power was only provided in the evening or at night, but it makes sense. The first use for electricity was for lighting and finding other uses for it did not make sense if it was only available for half the day. Now we have so many things that rely on electricity that we are paralyzed when the power goes out.



Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Council meeting, population, and an bygone controversy

Monday's City Council meeting had a short agenda. After the routine opening items, the Council approved the gas tracker resolution, which was an eight cent decrease per hundred cubic feet. (January had seen a fifteen cent increase.)

Each year the City passes an ordinance to return outstanding warrants to original funds. The ordinance assumes that City checks that have not been cashed for two years will never be cashed, and the books are adjusted accordingly. If someone who was supposed to be paid and lost the check asks for payment, they will still be paid. The Council, as it does each year, passed the ordinance. It then passed an ordinance establishing a donation fund. If someone or a group wants to make a donation for a specific purpose (flags for downtown was the one mentioned), this fund will be a place to park the funds. People can earmark donations for specific purposes and the money will only be spent for that purpose.

The Little Cousin Festival Committee requested a donation of $500 for a scholarship it is offering. Why the LCJ Committee is giving a scholarship and why the City should contribute were never really explained, but the Council granted the request.

In a recent Council meeting the discussion of recording equipment led to the establishment of a committee to investigate options. On Monday the committee reported that it had gotten a second quote. The quote from the company that had made the presentation a few meetings back was $17,000 and the new quote was not to exceed $12,000. It would include microphones for each Council member that record on a separate track so that each mic can be isolated on playback. It would also include two large monitors that would allow the audience to see presentations. The Committee was asked to get a written quote for the next meeting.

The Clerk-Treasurer asked the Council to consider moving her office into some of the space vacated by the Police Department. A committee (Barton and Cover) was established to consider the proposal.

City offices will closed on President's Day.  A new power line along SR 114 has been completed that connects the City with the Watt substation. Well #8 (on Sparling) has its new pump and this week should be tested. If all goes well, it may be on line by the end of the week. With that, the meeting ended.

A few days ago a Pulaski County Facebook page linked to a page of population estimates for Indiana Counties. (See here.) Pulaski County had one of the largest percentage drops in the state, a decline of 6% from 2010 to 2017. I wonder if their tax structure contributed to that. Pulaski has the highest county income tax in the state. They decided to transfer taxes from property, which is hard and in the case of land impossible to move, to people with income. Jasper County has had almost no change in population according to these estimates, though any effect from the closing of St. Joseph's College would probably not show up because the data only goes to 2017. Most rural counties show population declines and most urban counties have population increases.

The cold weather and the falling river level have created some strange ice formations on trees along the river.
Finally, I was recently scanning through newspapers from 1903. The contentious issue of the day was liquor, with the temperance movement seeking to shut down the bars. I thought this article was humous enough to save.


Thursday, February 7, 2019

Odds and ends, 2-7-2019

The weather keeps changing. The snow melt and rains have raised the river level but it is still below the flood stage. Lake Weston is back. Below is a picture of the fallen tree by Weston Cemetery that will act as a dam if the level rises higher. The picture was taken on Wednesday.
The forecast is for much colder temperatures in the week ahead.

The Rensselaer Park Board met Monday night for a long session even though both the Rensselaer Park Board and the Park Corporation lacked quorums. There was a long and hopefully fruitful conversation about future cooperation with a representative from the Rensselaer Regional Soccer Club. It seems unlikely that the grass on the Monnett fields will be well enough established to have games there next year so plans are being made to plot some fields at Brookside Park for the upcoming year.

The other guests at the meeting want to start a softball team of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders girls this spring. The Rensselaer Schools do not want to sponsor it, perhaps because they do not have the facilities. Undeterred, the parents will do it on their own. They wanted practice space in the parks and were thinking Columbian Field. Because that field will be used by the park leagues for practice in April and May, they were told that Brookside will be a better spot and they were assured that they will have a field for both practice and some home games. The Board should have taken a phone vote by now to make the arrangement official.

What was once the campus of Christian Haven near Wheatfield will be sold at auction this month. Details here.

The historical preservation people have concluded that the long-vacant house on the corner of Washington and McKinley known as the Forsythe-McMahon House is beyond repair. It has been on the list of endangered historical structures for many years.

WLFI reports that Tippecanoe County will ban industrial wind turbines. See here.

Looking for some information on old microfilm, I bumped into two other items that I thought interesting. One was this notice from 1915:


One of the names that is prominent in the early history of Jasper County is Makeever. As far as I know, no one in the area still has that name and I have always wondered what happened to the family. I found an obituary in an August, 1928 Rensselaer Republican that may explain. Sanford Makeever who grew up in Rensselaer and attended Rensselaer high school had died in East Orange, New Jersey. He had studied law at Valparaiso University and gone to Chicago and then on to New York. Below is the paragraph that lists his surviving siblings.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Feb 2019 Commissioners meeting

Another large crowd attended the February meeting of the County Commissioners. Before the agenda item that had attracted their interest was discussed, the crowd got to witness other things that happen at a Commissioners meeting.

The Commissioners approved a buried cable permit for Monsanto. It will be a fiber optic cable 3700 feet long and the installation will be bored.  Mark Sinclair, Animal Control officer, gave them a heads-up on a new state law that will require all animals put up for adoption by the Animal Shelter to be spayed or neutered. The law takes effect in July of 2021. Stephen Eastridge of Jasper County Economic Development Organization  presented them  with a resolution that names Jasper County as a broadband-ready community. The resolution is a first step and designates the head of JCEDO as the contact person. Some changes in County ordinances will also need to be made. The reason for going this route is that the State has decided that getting broadband access in rural communities is a priority that the State will back with funding. Becoming broadband-ready will put the County in the queue for future State grants or funding.

Kyler Laird was next on the agenda with two items. The first he left to Lana Zimmer, who announced that Dan Perkins, the Watershed and Conservation District Director for the Jasper County Soil and Water Conservation District, will be leaving the position in April. She requested permission to refill the position, which was granted. Mr Laird wanted to rent the Jasper County Youth Center on Sparling Avenue for two purposes, one for a Montessori school and the other for use of the kitchen for commercial purposes. The Commissioners approved the first but not the second.

Sheriff Williamson gave the Commissioners the annual jail report and other documents. The average census of the jail for 2018 was 79, down two or three from 2017. He asked for approval to hire a part-time maintenance man to deal with plumbing and electrical problems as needed and the Commissioners did not deny that. They did approve filling a full-time vacancy caused by a dispatcher taking another job and also allowed the Department to use the person who left on a part-time basis. The Sheriff said that the Department had had few calls on Wednesday and Thursday. Very few people were on the roads for those two days.

After approving a few conference requests and making some appointments, the Commissioners turned to the wind farm ordinance. Knowing that he faced a hostile audience, Commissioner Culp began with a summary of how the ordinance that the Commissioners had sent to the Plan Commission increased regulation of wind turbines from the current ordinance. Setbacks were increased, large sections of the County were put off-limits to turbines, and there were height  and shadow-flicker restrictions. Only 28% of the land in Jasper County is available for development. He and attorney Beaver explained the options open to the Commissioners. They could affirm the version that they sent to the Plan Commission, in which case it would become the new ordinance. If they voted to not reaffirm, the proposal that the Plan Commission had sent to them would become the new ordinance. Or they could do nothing and in 45 days the proposal of the Plan Commission would take effect. There was no options that would keep the old ordinance. (Given the confusion on these options even among the Commissioners, I feel better about my past misstating of how the process worked.)

The public comments were not much different from the public comments at the many previous meetings about wind turbines. However, someone who has a connection with Tri-County Schools said that there were a number of Tri-County programs that would not have been possible without windmill money from Benton and White Counties. There was a comment about Military Operations Area (MOA) and whether eastern Jasper County fell into the MOA of Grissom Air Force Base. Commissioner Culp said that he had visited the Pentagon to find out but despite his efforts, he had not yet discovered whether the Grissom MOA included parts of Jasper County. RES apparently had been trying to get MOA clearance for Pulaski County and had never gotten an answer. Any restrictions caused by the MOA would supersede any County Ordinance.

After a lot of sound and fury, the Commissioners reaffirmed the draft that they sent to the Plan Commission. However, they indicated that they were open to further changes, especially of setbacks. So it seems that future meetings of the Plan Commission and Commissioners may continue to draw big crowds.

At this point almost the entire audience left. The Commissioners turned to bridges and roads. A person from the company that inspects County bridges said that the State will now require more load restrictions. Currently a bridge needs a sign if it is load-rated at 15 tons or less but in the future bridges with higher load restrictions may also need signs. There are two bridges in the north that need work but for more than a year they have been on the top of the list of bridges that have problems. There was a brief discussion of CCMG, the State program that gives matching grants to local government. The red tape and paper work have increased. The County got a proposal in before the January deadline and should hear if they will get funding before April. There will be a second round for grant applications in July.

The Commissioners approved new Health Department fees and amended the 2019 holiday schedule based on an employee survey to make Christmas and Christmas Eve holidays. And then they adjourned.

We have a sudden change in weather, from bitter cold to mild, spring-like temperatures. Except for piles created by snow removal, most of the snow is gone.

The Autumn Trace building was being roofed on Sunday.

Friday, February 1, 2019

It's already February

This week the weather has dominated the Rensselaer news. The City and County largely shut down on Wednesday and Thursday because of the bitter cold. For about two days the temperature did not get above 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The Rensselaer Schools did not have classes from Monday through Thursday and had a two hour delay on Friday. There was no mail delivery on Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday not only saw very low temperatures but also strong winds, giving us wind-chill readings that were in the minus 40 degree range. Most people stayed home. I suspect some of them stayed home because their cars would not start.

Making this deep freeze scary on Wednesday morning was a power outage for parts of Rensselaer and much of northern Jasper County. My power was off for about an hour and I was very relieved when it came back on. I have hot water heat so a long loss of either electricity or gas during an event like this could be a disaster.

I stopped by Save-A-Lot on Thursday morning and they had only two bananas for sale. They obviously had not received their normal deliveries. On Friday I stopped by the Library and commented to a worker that this polar-vortex event had not had the same dire consequences as the one in January, 2014. Perhaps the damage from this latest bout of bitter cold will be lessened because of changes people made as a result of what happened in 2014. (The Library was not taking chances this year. The Library was closed for two days but they were checking daily and they kept water running.)

It easy to get pictures of big snows but hard to get pictures that capture the bitter cold. Even with the subzero weather, parts of the Iroquois remained open. Below is the river on Friday from the bowstring bridge looking to the Washington Street bridge. Notice the ice rings on some of the trees--the river partially froze when the water level was higher.
Further downstream where the river is deeper and the current slower, it did freeze over. Below is the river by Weston Cemetery showing a tree that has fallen across the river.

On Thursday I watched a squirrel in my yard dig up a nut from under the snow. How did it know where to dig?

I attended a couple of meetings on Friday morning. PTABOA (Peta Boa AKA Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals) had a short meeting that approved minutes, elected officers, and briefly discussed NIPSCO's presentation at the task force meeting in January. Not mentioned was NIPSCO's announcement that it was buying power from three wind farms that are soon to be built in White, Benton/Warren, and Montgomery Counties. (See here or here.) NIPSCO wants to go largely renewable in the next few years, but that will require battery storage and I have yet to hear anything about their plans for batteries.

The Tourism Commission also met on Friday morning. They also elected officers, keeping the same as they had at the end of last year. They discussed an application to help fund Amber Waves for next year. They had agreed to help fund the 2018 event but had to backtrack because Fenwick Farms, the sponsor, is a private business. In 2019 the Rotary will co-sponsor it and, as a non-profit, will be able to receive Tourism funds. Because a preliminary meeting for information had to be postponed, the request was tabled for the next Commission meeting.

The Jasper/Newton Foundation has the possibility of tapping into large amounts of Lilly money next year, but to be eligible it needs to conduct a rather expensive community assessment. It will be asking Jasper and Newton County governments as well as Jasper and Newton County towns and cities to help fund the assessment. Their request to the Tourism Board was for $10,000. The Commission decided that it needed this kind of input but could not afford to do it on its own, so was happy to have the opportunity to piggyback on a larger study. They agreed to pay the money.

There was mention of the cancelation of Remington's Water Tower Days but no discussion of it. Remington would like to build an amphitheater and may be approaching the Tourism Commission for help in a future meeting. DeMotte is planning a Community Center and it also may ask for some help. An idea still in its infancy is to get more murals in Jasper County.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Three meetings


Monday evening featured three public meetings. First up was the Rensselaer City Council meeting. Stephen Eastridge began with a report on what the Jasper County Economic Development Organization (JCEDO) was doing. In 2018 he was busy building relationships regionally and in 2019 he hopes to focus on relationships within the County. He said that his efforts were aimed more at helping businesses within the County grow than on attracting new businesses. Councilman Odle agreed that that focus made a lot of sense. The City of Rensselaer supports financially JCEDO and the Council approved a semi-annual contribution of $5000.

The Council clarified its action at the last meeting regarding a request by Good Oil for support in attaching to the City's sewer system. The City is willing to take sewage from businesses on the west side of the I-65/SR 114 interchange and will help with the permitting for boring under I-65. The reason that Good Oil wants help in the permitting is that the state does not charge municipalities for obtaining permits.

Consideration of quotes for a new truck for the gas department was delayed to the next meeting so additional quotes can be obtained. Jacob Ahler, who is the City's appointment to the Rensselaer Central School Board, is resigning and there is a need to fill the several months remaining on his term. Anyone interested should contact the Mayor. The reason Ahler is resigning is that he is now the legal counsel for the Jasper County Council, which meets at the same time that the School Board meets (which is why this blog only rarely covers what is happening  at School Board meetings.).

It appears that most of the City and County will be shut down on Wednesday and Thursday. The City announced early on Monday that the trash and recycling pickup for Wednesday will be postponed until Thursday and it is likely that it will be further postponed until Friday. The Mayor will decide if City Hall shuts down on Wednesday and Thursday. The County Commissioners have already decided that Jasper County government will be shut down on Wednesday and Thursday. 

The Fire Department has responded to eleven calls from Friday through Monday evening. If you have any water lines that are in danger of freezing, leave a little water running for the next couple of days.

After the meeting I asked a City official about ACD, the company that I saw stringing fiber cable on City utility poles. They are apparently doing the work as a contractor for another, unnamed company and it may be part of a 5-G network. 

The Jasper County BZA and Plan Commission meetings on Monday evening were moved to the third floor of the Court House because of the large crowd. The BZA meeting was first and was short. The Board elected new officers: Scott Walstra as chair and Lance Strange as Vice Chair. Its only agenda item was a variance for a setback. A person wanted to remove an existing structure and replace it with a structure with a somewhat larger footprint. That new structure apparently encroaches on the set back, which is why the variance was needed. It was approved.

The Plan Commission had two new members, David Webb replacing Sandra Putt and Steve Jordan replacing Gerritt DeVries. The officers for 2019 are Kent Korniak as President, Brian Overstreet as Vice President, and James Martin as Secretary. 

The first item on the agenda was the item that brought the crowd, the revised wind farm ordinance that the Commissioners had passed at their January 6 meeting. The attorney for the Commission told members that they could not amend and had only three options. They could  approve what the Commissioners had sent, and if they did, the ordinance would take effect immediately. They could disapprove it, in which case the ordinance would return to the Commissioners, who would then have the option of approving it. If the Commissioners did nothing, the draft that the Plan Commission had approved in November would take effect. Or they could do nothing at all, in which case the draft from the Commissioners would take effect after 45 days.  (I have in past blog posts been mistaken in describing the options available to the Commissioners and the Plan Commission as an ordinance moves from one body to the next. However, the discussion on the Plan Commission revealed that I am not the only one who has had trouble understanding the process.)

There was some discussion. Several members thought that the Commissioners had made some good changes but did not like other things that they had changed, especially the setbacks. The idea that there should be further negotiations was voiced by more than one member. After further discussion, Vince Ubano moved to disapprove the ordinance. His motion passed 6 to 2. 

The second item was an ordinance for solar energy systems. It had been introduced at the previous Plan Commission meeting and tabled so changes could be considered. The new draft had changes for acreage, noise, conservation districts, and fees. The ordinance drew heavily from an similar ordinance from Shelby County. There were concerns that a solar park would limit neighboring property owners but it was clarified that the setbacks were not reciprocal. After some discussion, the item was sent back to committee for further changes and will be brought back for the February 25 meeting.

I do not have any pictures that capture the cold that we are experiencing, but here are two that show the work being done at the Weston Cemetery office building. The first was taken on the 22nd and the second on Monday, the 28th.


I see from Facebook that Remington's Water Tower Days, scheduled for June 8, has been canceled. The reason given was that there were not enough volunteers.

Hunker down and get ready for some of the coldest weather that Rensselaer has ever experienced. Wednesday's forecast high is below zero.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

End of a cold week

On Friday most area schools were closed because of the extremely cold temperatures. The forecast for next week is for even colder temperatures, with brutally cold temperatures for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. It will be interesting to how many school delays and closings there will be next week.

The rain on Wednesday helped clear the roads so that City streets were mostly clear on Thursday. However, we are now getting more snow over the next few days so the roads will again be icy next week. If you must get out, drive carefully.

In the December 12 City Council meeting the Council approved a pole attachment agreement that came from interest by unnamed companies that wanted to attach lines to the City's utility poles. Last week I noticed a company doing that. The company is Advanced Communication and Data or ACD. It is a Michigan company. I do not know the rest of the story but I suspect that there is an interesting story here.
The hotel at Fair Oaks Farms opened a couple days ago. I suspect they want a quiet opening to work out any bugs and get staff trained.

Work at Autumn Trace has enclosed the building so there will not be much change until they finish the roof and give the exterior walls their final layer. The company put some pictures shot from a drone on the Internet this past week so I will link to one of theirs rather than post one of mine.

Rensselaer's Habitat for Humanity is no more. It is now affiliated with the Fuller Center for Housing. Their website explains: "This organization no longer has any affiliation with Habitat for Humanity or their partners. Both Habitat and Fuller Center were founded by Millard Fuller and have many goals in common and the same final goal, but are separate organizations. Our affiliate was started in 1994 under Habitat, and changed to a Fuller Center covenant partner in December 2018." (Their Facebook page is here.)

The first meeting of the task force concerned with the consequences of the closing of NIPSCO's Wheatfield generating station met in DeMotte on Wednesday evening. The Rensselaer Republican has a report of what happened at the meeting that is published in their Saturday edition.

The diocesan paper of Lafayette had an article about an after-school violin class at St. Augustine's School. You can read it here.  The class got some start-up money from the Jasper-Newton Foundation.

Fowler is featured in a BP ad that has been airing on television. I have not seen it there but it is on line here.

The former Country Bumpkin/Thee Dragonfly is busy moving from Kellner to Washington Street next to the bakery.
That is all I have for this week.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Odds and ends on a snowy Saturday

The weekend snow has been less than some of the forecast predictions but still has shut down many activities. The Rensselaer Library closed early and did not have their scheduled Train Day. The Library does have the 2018 tax forms available. The forms are different this year reflecting the tax changes made in 2017. The old 1040EZ and 1040A gone and everyone files a simplified 1040.

Postage rates are rising on January 27. The cost of a letter will rise from 50¢ to 55¢. You have only a few days to stock up on Forever stamps.

Fair Oaks Farm will open its new hotel in a few days. I have not seen an announcement of when they will open but the Fairfield website would accept reservations for February 1. 

Talbert Manufacturing was awarded a $320 million contract over the next five years to build semitrailers for the U.S. Department of Defense.

On Friday morning workers at Autumn Trace seemed to be installing the last few trusses. They had already installed many of the windows.
Also on Friday the Jasper County Finance Committee met. I had never been to one of these meetings so I went to see what they did. The Committee consists of the Commissioners and the County Treasurer and it must meet annually to approve the County's investment policy. Usually that meeting is very short and is the only time it meets during the year.

The Committee began by approving the minutes for both the 2018 and 2017 meetings. The County has quite a bit of money sitting in various accounts and the Treasurer has been investing that money in bank CDs. I recall at either a Commissioners or Council meeting a few years ago where there was a  discussion of what kinds of investment the State allow counties to make, and the State is quite restrictive in what it allows. Interest rates have risen in the past two years as the economy has expanded and the Federal Reserve has tightened monetary policy. The most recent investment that the Treasurer made was at 2.85%. The total amount of interest income that the County receives is starting to approach a million dollars a year.

The Treasurer invests so that each month a CD matures. Breaking the total investment in parts that are frequently maturing reduces or eliminates early withdrawal penalties if funds are suddenly or not so suddenly needed, which can happen when there are big expenditures such as the recent energy upgrades at the Court House. At Friday's meeting a representative from the Surveyor's office requested that some of their maintenance fund be invested so that the interest would go to the GDIF account. (I do not know what the GDIF account is but it funds some of the minor repairs that are done to ditches.) Currently the Surveyor's funds are invested as part of total monies and the interest goes to the County General Fund. The Board approved the request as part of the investment policy for 2019.

We are going to have a few days of real winter next week. More than the cold, I dislike the short days of winter. However, the days are getting longer by about a minute and forty seconds each day, and that increase per day is getting larger. I found a neat website that allows one to track the length of day for any location for the entire year. Check it out here. It shows that in one month there will be an extra hour and ten minutes of daylight.
 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

County Council 1-15-19

The first order of business for the Jasper County Council on Tuesday evening was election of officers. The Council stayed with Rein Bontreger as President and Andrew Andree as Vice President.

Stephen Eastridge from Jasper County Economic Development Organization addressed the Council about three items. He discussed the community task force that he has assembled to prepare for the scheduled closure of NIPSCO's Wheatfield plant. Eleven people have agreed to serve and he is close to getting a twelfth and final member. There will be six monthly meetings, with the first in DeMotte. The second will probably also be in DeMotte and he would like to schedule the third in Remington.

Next he suggested to Council Members that the County should have a tax abatement policy that encourages some kinds of investment over other kinds. He proposed a scorecard that gives points for things that the County desires. This would take some of the subjectivity out of the abatement process and would give companies more certainty when considering investment in the County. For example, right now employment is tight and existing companies are having a hard time filling positions. So attracting a company with a lot of jobs might not be as desirable as it might be at other times. Instead the County might prefer companies that have higher wages and make more investment. A scorecard could reflect these or other preferences.

Finally, he said at the next Commissioners meeting he will be presenting a proposal to make the County a broadband ready community. This taps into something that the State is promoting. Two neighboring counties, Benton and Newton, are working on it. A solid infrastructure supporting telecommunications and Internet access is important for attracting new development.

Next was a discussion of pay and job descriptions for deputy coroners. There are eleven and all are part-time, paid based on work done.

The Council expressed appreciation for the work done by three jail inmates in cleaning the attic and basement of the Court House. The recent energy upgrades to the Court House are almost finished. There was only one bid received for remodeling the former PNC building and there needs to be at least two. The work will be rebid. With that, the meeting was adjourned.

The Rensselaer Library has an unusual exhibit for the next few days, a replica of the coffin of Abraham Lincoln. It is sponsored by the DAR, Jackson Funeral Chapels, and the Library and will only be here until January 21. On Thursday evening at 6:00 pm the Library will host a program by Lincoln presenter Danny Russel.
The Fendig Gallery's first exhibit of the year is the annual Primary School Art Show.
Among the schools represented are Rensselaer Primary, St. Augustine, South Newton, Lake Village, Demotte Christian, and DeMotte Primary.
The pictures are from Kindergarten, first, and second graders. It must be hard for the teachers to select what items to display. As the exhibits continue through the rest of the grades, one can see just how much ability increases through the years.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

City Council meeting 1-14-2019

The first 2019 meeting of the Rensselaer City Council started late because the Board of Public Works meeting, which meets half an hour before the Council meeting once a month, went long. I had looked at the agenda and did not see anything that looked interesting, so skipped it. What I did not realize was that the Change Order item was about the new well on Sparling Avenue. The pump that had been installed was not quite right for the well and the suspicion was that it would fail prematurely. It will be replaced at no cost to the City with a submersible pump. Until the work is completed satisfactorily a payment of about $250,000 will be withheld.

First on the agenda of the City Council were two items from the Utility Office. The first changed the disconnect policy. The details were not explained but it will give certain customers more time to pay before they are disconnected for non-payment. It passed. The second was a proposal to establish a three-tiered meter deposit, with no deposit for those with good credit, the current deposit for those with mediocre credit, and a higher rate for those with bad credit. The City has been working with a company that generates or provides the credit information. As part of the ordinance, after twelve months in which there are no problems with payments, the deposit would be applied to the utility bill. Councilman Watson did not like the higher rates for those with a sketchy credit history because he said that it makes life harder for people who are already having a hard time with finances but he did like the part that gave back the deposit by applying it to the customer's bill. After some discussion, a committee of Councilmen Watson and Odle was formed to examine the ordinance and make a recommendation to a future Council meeting.

The gas tracker for January will be a fifteen cent increase per hundred cubic feet. The gas department was given permission to seek quotes for a new service truck to replace a 2003 truck used for welding that is starting to have problems. The Council also approved the purchase of nine radios for about $27,000 for the Fire Department.

Next there was a discussion of an inquiry from Good Oil Company, owner of the gas station on the west side of the SR 114/I-65 interchange. They wanted to know if the City would be open to allowing the businesses to connect to the City sewer on the east side of the interchange. They do not want to spend money developing plans if the City will not allow a connection. The Council voted that they are open to the idea. The discussion suggested that any connection will need to be paid for and constructed by the businesses on the west. The City would be willing to help obtain needed permits. George Cover said that it is in the interest of the City to help the businesses there because they provide jobs for City residents. The Council also approved granting the Mayor authority to hire an engineering firm to review any plans that Good Oil develops.

The Mayor and Council made appointments to various boards and commissions. Most were re-appointments. One opening that remains is a seat on the Rensselaer Board of Zoning Appeals where a current member has moved outside of City limits and thus is no longer eligible to serve on the Board. There will also be an opening in June for the Rensselaer Central School Board.

INDOT, which owns a square block of land in northeast Rensselaer where it once had its operations, has offered the land to the City for $1.00. However, they are not willing to accept any future liability for environmental contamination problems from any chemicals that might be on the site. The Council decided to decline the offer because of the potential liability and the lack of any real need for the property.

(I noted back in October another lot for sale that had environmental issues. It sold and the title was transferred in November. Like the INDOT property, it cannot be used for residential purposes and it has other restrictions on use due to its past use.)

The Mayor noted that the Governor has no Amtrak subsidy in his budget proposal and without the subsidy the Hoosier State will not run on the four days of a week that it currently runs. There was a brief discussion of a past proposal by a company to provide recording services for Council meetings. The Council thought the price ($17,000 for the basic service) was too high but agreed a committee (Barton & Cover) should consider options.

A recent hire by the Police Department will graduate from the police academy this week and join the force on Sunday. There is another opening at the Department that will have the hiring process starting soon.

The meeting adjourned a bit after 7:00.

Rensselaer woke up on Monday morning to heavy fog and very cold temperatures. The fog froze on tree branches. Because there was virtually no wind, it created a thick layer of ice crystals, mostly on only one side of the branch or twig.
Even small stems of flowers were thickly coated.
 It was not just the vegetation that was iced, but also fences and signs.
 Below is a close-up of the ice crystals on a sign that shows the feathery texture of the frost.
A few hours after sunrise it was all gone.

Checking the Internet, I learned that there is a difference between rime frost and hoar frost, but I cannot tell which this frost was.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Snow!

Some of the weather forecasts I saw for this weekend had Rensselaer on the northern edge of a big snow storm. The radar today, however, showed that the snow had gone north of the forecast and we were in the middle, not the edge, of the area of snow. It has been snowing all day. The snow seems a bit dry for snowmen, but my neighbors managed a small one.
 Below is the view of Lincoln Avenue from the entrance of the Cemetery. The City has not plowed this street yet. The snow crew may be waiting for the snow to stop before they begin plowing.
 I keep watching the rapid changes at Autumn Trace behind Walmart. On Tuesday there were no trusses on the eastern half of the building. The view is from the parking lot of the Royal Oak Restaurant.
 On Friday morning the crew was finishing the trusses on the south east corner.
 On Saturday morning the trusses on this part were finished. There is still a pile of trusses and I think they are for the hallways between the four corner units.

There was not a lot of traffic Saturday morning. I think most people were avoiding unnecessary trips.

On Friday Ryan Musch of Embers shared a Youtube video on Facebook. It is a music video shot in Rensselaer, something that is unusual and worth noting. You should be able to identify some of the locations. You may also be able to identify one of the young people in the video.

If you go to Youtube to watch the video, you can find background information on how it was made and the identify of the local person in the video.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Park news

2019 should be an exciting year for Rensselaer parks with many changes, new facilities, and new programs.

The Park Board and Corporation met on Monday evening. The Board did not have a quorum so could take not actions, but the Corporation did. (For an explanation of the two, see here.)

The president of the Board announced that one corporation board member was stepping down so there is an opening for a new member. The members present agreed that they wanted to spread word of the opening so anyone who was interested could apply.

There was some discussion of soccer and then attention turned to the status of improvements being funded by the Parks for People monies. The dog park is almost finished and would be if November had not been so cold. There was concern about whether the grass for the soccer fields at the Monnett site will be ready for games in August. Weather has delayed work on other improvements at the Staddon-Monnett park: a walking trail, entry gates, and new basketball courts. They were the basis for the $50,000 state grant and have to be done in the first round of improvements. The three new ball fields for Brookside are still in the planning stages. The original plan was for two bigger and one smaller field. Three bigger fields would make the facility much more attractive to tournaments that pay money for using facilities and so plans are being re-worked. Apparently the company doing the planning is slow. All the ball fields need to be done at the same time and the cost of doing them and upgrading the rest room nearby will be about the same as the cash collected so far by the campaign. (Many pledges are being paid over three or five years.)

There are a number of new or special events that are on the drawing boards for this year. There may be a vegetable garden for children, in part to help them learn that food does not originate at the grocery store. The LaRue Pool will celebrate its 70th birthday this June and a pool party or two is being planned. Prairie Arts Council may be abandoning its Art Camp and the Park may take it over. There is the possibility of a family camp-out night in June that will be fun it the weather is decent. If the walking trail at Monnett is ready by June, it may see its grand opening with National Trails Day. Most or all of last year's programs will be continued this year.

The next meeting will be on February 4.

The Jasper County Drainage Board also met on Monday. There was a public hearing about vacating some easement along a ditch. A person who owned a lot in a subdivision discovered that the lot was not buildable because the adjacent ditch had a 75 foot easement, taking up a large part of his lot. His request was denied because the Commissioners said that several years ago they had adopted the policy of denying all requests that would reduce easements.  There then followed discussion of the Kankakee River and of the Kankakee River Basin Commission, most of which I did not understand because I do not know the people or the background of the issues discussed.

In other news, SJC will host a memorial service for the late Fr. Kostka, C.PP.S. in the gymnasium on Saturday at 1:00. Fr. Kostka recently died at the ripe old age of 104.

I noticed over the weekend that SJC has removed many dead trees along US 231 and in the grove east of the Science Building. The emerald ash borer hit the campus trees hard.

Workers have been busy working on the new Autumn Trace building. About half of the roofing trusses were up as of Tuesday.
Winter weather has returned. After some unseasonably warm day, we have more typical January weather and even some snow flurries.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

More wind

The Jasper County Commissioners met on Monday with a short agenda and a huge audience. The meeting could not be moved to a court room because the courts were in session.

First on the agenda was a brief report from Stephen Eastridge, Director of the Jasper County Economic Development Organization (JCEDO). He announced that there would be a series of meetings of the task force to prepare the County for the 2023 closing of the Schahfer Plant. The first will be on Jan 23 at 7:00 pm at the Fase Center east of DeMotte. The speaker will be a representative of NIPSCO who will explain what and why the company is doing what it is doing. Meetings on Feb 25 and March 18 will follow. They are open to the public and I suspect the reason that the first and probably the others will be at the Fase Center is that the northern part of the County will bear the brunt of the impact of closing. He also announced that the president of the Tourism Board had resigned from the Board and the Commissioners approved a replacement for her.

They approved Rensselaer, Remington, and DeMotte newspapers for legal announcements and signed off on a request from Wheatfield Township for an extension on its fire station bond from OCRA. Sheriff Williamson's request to fill a vacancy in the jail caused by a resignation was approved. The Commissioners also approved the transfer of a truck from the Sheriff to the Surveyor’s Department.

Then the main event began, discussion of the wind farm ordinance. Mr Culp said that the discussion would be confined to two hours, till 10:45. He began by reviewing the history of the ordinance. The first one was passed in 2008. In December of 2017 it was updated. In November of 2018, after several meetings, the Plan Commission approved a revised ordinance and sent it to the Commissioners for their approval. The Commissioners then had 90 days to act and if they did not act, the Plan Commission version would take effect. If they make changes, the Plan Commission has 45 days to act. No further changes can then be made. The Plan Commission can only vote yes or no on what the Commissioners send back. If they vote yes, the ordinance takes effect. If they vote no, the Commissioners can accept the version that the Plan Commission sent to them. If they do not accept that version, the old ordinance remains in effect and the whole process must begin again. (This is how I understand the process, though I may be mistaken.)

Mr Culp began by saying that the Plan Commission had said in their first December meeting that they wanted to allow wind turbines in the County but the setbacks in their draft would make them impossible. He then went through the changes that they had made. They set a height limit, which was 575 feet. The setback to any non-participating residence was a third of a mile, but that could be waived by the homeowner. They expanded the no-turbine zone around the Jasper-Pulaski Reserve and because of the dense housing in the northern part of the County, they drew a line at Division Road and made the northern half of the County a no-turbine zone. (30% of the County’s population is in Keener Township.) They also drew a circle with a six mile radius around the Jasper County Airport and declared that area off-limits to turbines. As a result, the proposed ordinance bans turbines in Keener, Wheatfield, Kankakee, Walker, Union, Newton Townships as well as most of Marion, Barkley and Gillam Townships and a little of Jordan Township. They are allowed in the southern parts of Barkley and Gillam Townships as well as in Milroy, most of Jordan, and Carpenter Townships. The Rensselaer City Council had passed an ordinance banning them in the two mile exclusion zone around Rensselaer but that whole ares is within the six-mile circle around the airport. The map below shows the results.
On the map the smaller circles are 1/3 mile circles around buildings based on data from 2005.

The turbine owner must maintain all drains and tiles within 1.5 times the tip height of the turbine for the life of the project.

At this point the discussion was stopped because the agenda said it was time to open bids for a variety of things. Bids were received for tires, crushed stone, sand, trucking, and machine rental. All bids were accepted. The meeting then took a ten minute break before more bids were opened, these for road surfacing materials. Again, all bids were accepted.

The floor was then open for public comments and there were many. There were questions about safety and safety zones, arguments that small landowners should be compensated for tolerating nearby towers and that larger setbacks would accomplish this, worries about fire that would spread to fields ready for harvest. Someone representing Everglades of the North said that the County should embrace wind energy because it was cleaner energy than coal, with a later speaker arguing that the carbon footprint of the turbines was huge. Another speaker worried about the possibilities of ground water contamination if the developer needed to drive piles due to soft soil. A citizen asked if the Commissioners were getting kickbacks from the wind farm developers. A speaker said that the cranes were spreading southward and now were often in fields south of Division Road. Someone said that we should consider pipelines and transmission lines in siting towers. Several people argued that because most people were against turbines, they should simply be banned, a statement that was finally contested near the end of the meeting, when the Commissioners said that those in attendance were not representative of the entire County and that there will be a lot more angry people if they do nothing and taxes rise as a result. There were more concerns about safety and how the manuals for the turbines defined the safety zone.

A prominent farmer from southern Jasper County said that he represented owners of 15,000 acres who wanted wind turbines if EDP was the developer. He said that they did not want their property rights taken away by the ordinance. Later in the meeting Commissioner Maxwell said that the current interest of a developer was in the south east part of the County, south of 1200S and west of I-65. If a wind farm is built in Jasper County in the next few years, it will be here. The acreage has not yet been signed up and Remington can restrict part of that area by regulating its two-mile exclusion zone. The representative from EDP was asked about possible development and said that the earliest possible start date would be 2021.

Someone asked why the Commissioners did not just accept the draft that the Plan Commission had passed unanimously. The response was that the Plan Commission was advisory and that the setbacks in the draft, if applied to the recent project in Benton County, would have eliminated 60 of the 61 towers. Someone asked about the RES meteorological tower that was supposed to be removed by the first of the year. Mary Scheurich said that in a phone call last week someone from RES said that the tower would be removed this week. Mr Culp said that landowners have more control over the wind farms than they realize. At present RES has not signed up enough land for their proposed project. I have heard that Pulaski County banned turbines, in which case their plans for Jasper County may not be viable. There was no one from RES at the meeting and their efforts in the County seem to have stopped.

There were two representatives from wind farm developers in the audience and they were asked to respond to some of the questions and concerns. The depth of the pad is ten feet. If there is soft soil, piles or piers may go below that, but this is an extra expense so the developers try to site where only the ten-foot-deep pad is needed. The safety manuals are proprietary but do not have specific safety setbacks. The other representative later said that he could probably get a manual for the Commissioners. Pipelines have their own easements and the pipeline companies defend them. A wind turbine developer needs to negotiate with the pipeline company if they are in the area of the wind farm. Typically the wind farm developer has at least four agreements with a County: an economic development agreement, a road-use agreement, a drainage crossing agreement, and a decommissioning agreement. Drain tiles are a big problem for wind farm owners because anything that goes wrong is usually blamed on the wind farm, so they are used to fixing the drains near turbines whether or not they caused the problem.

A wind farm has its own LLC so the agreements it makes stay in effect if ownership changes. The decommissioning agreement requires a bond or escrow account so even if the LLC goes bankrupt, there will be monies for removing towers. One of the wind farm representatives said the current cost of removing a wind farm was about two million dollars. The reason the amount is so small is that the turbines have considerable scrap value, which offsets some of the total cost. There were questions about tax abatements, which is a concern of the County Council, not the Commissioners. Apparently the wind farms usually get a tax abatement but then give much or all of that money back to the county in the economic development agreement. The advantage for the county seem to be that they have fewer restrictions on how they can use that money than they would have if it came via taxes. If the issue comes before the County Council in the next few years, I may learn more.

Before any construction on a wind farm can begin, approval is needed from six county bodies: Commissioners, Drainage Board, Plan Commission, BZA, Airport Authority, and County Council.

The Commissioners then discussed among themselves what additional changes they wanted to make and their discussion was drowned out by audience noise. Regaining the audience's attention, they announced that they had reduced the decibels allowed at a residence from 50 to 45 and made a couple of other changes and then voted to approve the ordinance. It now goes back to the Plan Commission. The meeting adjourned a few minutes before noon.