DOUG ROSS: McDermott leads weigh, but not way, on Illiana

2013-12-13T00:00:00Z 2013-12-14T12:06:16Z DOUG ROSS: McDermott leads weigh, but not way, on IllianaBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. threw his weight around Thursday, but it didn't land where he wanted.

McDermott wanted a weighted vote on the Illiana Expressway proposal at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission meeting, but it ended up backfiring on him.

The final vote was 76-20, with the vote weighted by population. Hammond, for example, has 11.2 percent of the population of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, so McDermott's vote against the Illiana was more than half of the "anti" vote.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson controlled nearly 13.9 percent of the vote, with NIRPC using 2000 Census data instead of 2010 to determine the weight of each vote.

Had it been a straight show of hands, rather than a weighted vote, the project would have won by a mere two votes.

Freeman-Wilson spoke eloquently in a carefully crafted speech about the need to think regionally, not parochially. That's what it's all about.

There will be people inconvenienced by Thursday's vote, some more than others. Everyone feels sympathy for their plight.

Lowell Town Council member Craig Earley has spoken passionately about the potential strain the expressway could put on the volunteer EMS and firefighting services in that area. It's an issue that needs to be addressed.

Earley isn't happy about the NIRPC decision.

Personally, I'm thrilled by the results of Thursday's voting. It means the Illiana will qualify for federal funding. There are other hurdles yet for the expressway, but the big ones have all been cleared.

What doesn't thrill me is the number of communities not represented in this vote.

Three municipalities in LaPorte County — LaCrosse, Pottawatomie Park and Westville — haven't filled vacant seats on the commission yet. Dune Acres, in Porter County, also hasn't appointed anyone to NIRPC.

Admittedly, these are small towns, with as few as 213 residents, so there are fewer potential representatives to choose from. Still, this is an important position.

On top of those vacancies, there were six municipalities that have representation, but those people were no-shows Thursday on what might be the most important NIRPC vote of the decade.

Kingsbury, Kouts, Michiana Shores, the Pines and St. John weren't represented there. (Ogden Dunes representative Tom Clouser attended, but was out of the room when the crucial vote was taken. His vote would not have affected the outcome.)*

You'd think St. John, at least, would have had a representative there. The town is relatively close to where the expressway will run and could feel the effects of that development.

To me, it all comes back to what Freeman-Wilson said. We need to come together as a region, not be focused on individual parochial thinking. The no-shows and vacancies reflect the latter, not the former.

* This column has been changed from the original, to reflect Tom Clouser's attendance during most of the meeting.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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