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Indiana Dunes State Park pavilion

Pavilion Partners build a separate building for washrooms and shows in preparation for renovation of the pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park.

CHESTERTON — Dunes Action co-founder Jim Sweeney read from a 2015 newspaper article outlining the schedule for the renovations of the pavilion at the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Concessions were supposed to be operating that year and work would be commencing on the project.

That hasn't been done, he told a group of some 60 people gathered at the Westchester Public Library Service Center Tuesday night to hear updates on the group's battle with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and private developer Pavilion Partners over the proposed project.

Sweeney and fellow co-founder Norm Hellmers updated the group on the progress they've made but said work remains.

Sweeney claims the DNR and Pavilion Partners has been playing a "shell game" with the plans. Needing approval from the National Park Service because of the state park's use of federal Land and Water Conservation funds, Sweeney contends the DNR sent one set of plans to the NPS for approval, but at some point those plans changed.

"We forwarded them to the NPS," said Sweeney, which has thrown the latest cog in the development's wheel. The NPS has found the plans don't meet with their criteria and have told the developer they either have to revert to the old plans, submit new ones or convert property — add property of equal value to the state park to compensate what is being taken away.

He said they haven't heard the decision.

Tara Wolf, communications director with the state agency, said when contacted Wednesday the DNR is working with NPS to correct any potential concern regarding construction plans. 

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"Once plans are finalized/approved, information will be placed on our website," she said, referring people to follow the progress at in.gov/dnr/parklake/8462.htm 

"DNR will follow all laws, rules and/or regulations necessary to see the project through to completion so the citizens of Indiana can continue to enjoy Indiana Dunes State Park," Wolf said.

Hellmers said he and others have made numerous public records requests on the project and have found information dating back to 2010, pertaining to the project not meeting historic preservation standards.

The Dunes Action group does not object to renovations at the century-old pavilion, but object to plans that include a rooftop bar and other facilities within the building.

Hellmer said they question whether the DNR and developer might have broken state law by allowing state park staff to help in demolition and by not obtaining necessary permits or certificate of approvals from the historical preservation review committee for construction of the elevator shaft, demolition and alteration of the west plaza.

The matter, Hellmer said, was turned over to a special prosecutor in May, but the group has not been advised of any results of any investigation.

Hellmer said Dunes Action may also be seeking an attorney to help the group move forward, saying it was possible they would be filing lawsuits in the near future.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.