Welcome to summer in the region

2013-06-21T17:11:00Z 2013-06-23T00:31:06Z Welcome to summer in the regionTimes Staff nwitimes.com
June 21, 2013 5:11 pm  • 

The first day of summer Friday was greeted in the region with lightning strikes, a downpour, power outages, a lingering question about Lake Michigan and a delay in the opening of a local water park. 

Lightning struck the Timothy Ball Elementary School in Crown Point about 2:45 p.m. as a front of thunderstorms moved through the area.

The National Weather Service had been forecasting a risk of severe thunderstorms in the upper Midwest all day and the region began feeling their wrath just after 2 p.m.

By 5 p.m., about 1,700 NIPSCO customers were without power, with Gary, Crown Point, Lowell and Valparaiso among the hardest-hit areas. Most of the outages were in small pockets of a hundred or fewer customers and were mainly caused by limbs falling on power lines, authorities said.

In the midst of it all came news from state environmental investigators that answers to questions surrounding a glittery film found floating in Lake Michigan on Monday may not come for another two weeks or more. Swimmers discovered the substance floating on the water near Porter Beach on Monday afternoon when they emerged covered in the dark, sticky, glittery film.

And in Porter, the general manager of the new Seven Peaks Waterpark Duneland said efforts are underway to open most of the park at U.S. 20 and Waverly Road by the end of the month.

Matthew Phair said Friday the original plan to open the park on Memorial Day was delayed because nothing at the site was up to code. Additional problems have been discovered along the way, he said, such as a damaged sewer line for the wave pool.

"We're the first that want to get this park open for sure," he said.

Phair and others are hoping for better weather than was seen Friday, when winds gusted to 35 mph, lightning struck and heavy, brief downpours occurred throughout the region.

The lightning strike at Timothy Ball Elementary appeared to be one of several around the region. There also was a report of a lightning strike in St. John, though firefighters responding to the scene found no fire.

Crown Point firefighters found smoke at Timothy Ball when they arrived and fanned out to look for the source, Fire Chief Greg DeLor said. School was not in session. The lightning struck the highest point of the school, DeLor said.

The school is not far from where the 39th annual Arts and Crafts Festival and Taste of the Region were taking place in downtown Crown Point.

As to the mystery of what it was that prompted the closure of Lake Michigan beaches earlier in the week when the glittery substance was found floating just offshore, it may remain a mystery for several weeks more.

Dan Goldblatt, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said Friday the results could take two weeks or more. The July 4 holiday could extend the wait even longer, Goldblatt said.

Representatives from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management initially expected lab results on the substance to be returned within a few days or a week.

IDEM and the U.S. Coast Guard said the plume was 2 miles long and half a mile wide, but it quickly disappeared. It was unclear whether the material dissipated or sank to the bottom of the lake.

IDEM earlier this week said preliminary test results showed the substance to contain tricalcium orthophosphate, an anti-caking agent used as a food additive and in industrial applications. A Porter plant manufactures the material and ships it on barges, but the plant has not been cited as a source, IDEM officials said.

U.S. Coast Guard investigators examined two weeks of logs at the Port of Indiana earlier in the week and ruled out vessels there, as well as nearby ArcelorMittal, as the source of the material.

The investigation prompted swimming advisories and beach closures at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. Beaches reopened Wednesday after IDEM and the U.S. Geologic Survey determined there was no health risk associated with being in the water.

At the new Seven Peaks Waterpark Duneland, customers who bought season tickets are being compensated for the delay by having their passes extended for a couple of months into next year's season, Phair said. The compensation is being handled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the site.

Phair said the goal is to open half or three-quarters of the park by month's end. One major attraction that will not be done in time for that opening is the wave pool, he said.

"Everything's looking good to open up," he said.

Michael Barry, director of development and building commissioner for the town of Porter, said Friday he is waiting on park officials to obtain all the necessary permits before conducting the fire and occupancy inspections needed to let the site open.

The park is opening at the site of the shuttered Splash Down Dunes attraction.


Times staff writers Bob Kasarda, Lauri Harvey Keagle and Keith Benman contributed to this report.

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