State Rep. Ed Soliday's plan for the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission, backed by Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., is a compromise that combines the best of both plans for levee maintenance.
It offers local governance — locals nominate, governor appoints — with strict controls on funding, and it cuts off the Porter County portion of the watershed. It is the best of both worlds when it comes to enabling continued maintenance of the extensive flood control system from Interstate 65 to the state line.
When Lake County Surveyor George Van Til and McDermott introduced the conservancy district concept to support levee maintenance, the district would have included the Porter County portion of the Little Calumet River watershed, making problematic the creation of a conservancy district by a Lake County judge. It would have been a new government entity that could have created a new tax — OK, user fee, we understand the semantics — that could have ratcheted up without strict controls. It could have allowed the election of local board members without any practical knowledge of engineering or hydrology or other related subjects.
McDermott abandoned the conservancy district idea after its flaws became widely known. But he also fought Soliday's plan in the General Assembly last session because it didn't provide for local representatives.
It is good to see Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and McDermott, the Lake County Democratic chairman, come together with this new compromise. With the governor being limited to appointing board members nominated by local officials, and with an advisory board of experts included, the concern about local representation has been addressed while maintaining the provision that the board be guided by people who know what they're doing.
The fees also would be set by state statute, with a five-year cost-of-living increase factored in. That addresses concerns about controlling the costs.
The worst possible scenario would be to have continued inaction on levee maintenance because that could lead to catastrophic flooding like we saw in September 2008. Unless the levees are maintained, they will eventually fail. And relying on the individual communities to maintain them won't work because if one community fails to meet this responsibility, all communities could suffer.
This compromise shows what can happen when politicians with opposing views but similar goals work together to find a solution. This result is better than either original proposal.
The General Assembly should approve this new plan.