The new year brings an opportunity to reflect on 2012 and consider the environmental concerns we will face in the new year.
The region certainly experienced climatic stress last year. We saw severe drought conditions, strong storms, heat records and Lake Michigan levels reached an all-time low.
Regardless of where one stands on the cause of climate change, I think we can agree that we need to be better prepared. This year, we ought to engage in regional dialogue about specific mitigation strategies to protect our environment, property, businesses and jobs.
We continue to witness the remarkable transformation of the long-contaminated Grand Calumet River. To date, more than $120 million has been invested in dredging and restoration efforts. People are viewing the river as a community asset once again after decades of misuse and neglect. The next phase begins this year.
Conservation planning is gaining ground and recognition. Every day, more towns and municipalities are prioritizing protection and valuation of open space. And thanks to NIRPC’s 2040 Plan, which put our regional environmental assets in usable digital layers, communities can import data to help them strategize about conservation through words and maps. A prime example is the Gary/Chicago International Airport expansion.
In developing its plans, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, the city and the airport used such maps to collaborate with the conservation community. Together, they balanced the need for economic development with the need to preserve globally rare habitat and recreational access. Now that is effective planning.
We are learning that protection of air and water are vital to our region’s long-term livability. Upholding the law is a top concern.
Several substantial industrial permits and environment settlements were issued last year, each of which have meaningful benefits to the environment and our health. Beyond legal mechanisms, Save the Dunes and various organizations are actively monitoring water quality and aquatic health, identifying on-the-ground projects to benefit both, and creating partnerships to implement them. Through this work we can attract paddlers, fishermen, and recreationists to our waterways and keep beaches open.
Despite our relatively short length of shoreline compared to other Great Lakes states, Lake Michigan is undoubtedly our top regional natural resource and economic asset.
To date, Indiana has received more than $15 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding for important research, invasive species control and restoration projects that inject funds – and jobs – into our local economy. Continuation of this funding source is paramount.
And finally, let’s look beyond this year. Did you know that 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the bicentennial of Indiana's statehood, and the centennial of our state park system? What a milestone!
I believe that now — this year — is the time to consider these anniversaries and how we can best honor them locally.
As we continue our journey toward phenomenal quality of life in Northwest Indiana, let’s continue to consider the environment in our plans.