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INDIANAPOLIS — A plan to reverse Lake Michigan beach erosion in Northwest Indiana communities won unanimous approval Monday by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.

Senate Bill 178, sponsored by state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, would require sand that is regularly removed from the Port of Indiana, and other structures jutting into the lake, be deposited on existing Lake Michigan beaches.

Currently, the dredged sand is dumped about 8 to 15 feet offshore in the hope that waves will wash it onto the beaches, Tallian said. 

She argued that a state law directing dredging entities — primarily the Army Corps of Engineers — to put the sand directly on the beaches will replenish the shoreline more quickly, and revive badly eroded recreational areas in Ogden Dunes, Portage and Michigan City.

"We are in an emergency situation," Tallian said. "We need this now."

Republican Portage Mayor James Synder told the committee that beach erosion threatens Northwest Indiana tourism and diminishes quality-of-life for Region residents.

He noted that just last week a circular, concrete observation deck overlooking Lake Michigan at the Portage Riverwalk and Lakefront collapsed due to erosion.

"This has turned into a crisis," Snyder said. "Direct sand placement on the beach is the only short-term solution to this now-catastrophic problem."

He said local, state and federal entities all are looking into a permanent fix. But, in the meantime, Snyder said Tallian has devised "a simple solution to start forcing the federal government, and other agencies, to start fixing this."

State Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg, expressed concern about the added cost of pumping the sand onto beaches, as opposed to dumping it just offshore.

But Perfect ultimately voted for the plan due to the need to promote Indiana tourism.

Tallian's proposal also was supported by the Hoosier Environmental Council.

It now advances to the full Senate for a decision on whether to send the measure to the House.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.