EDITOR’S NOTE: Early this morning InkFreeNews learned there were multiple copies of the press release floating around council chambers during the Syracuse Town Council meeting last night. The corrected information was supplied by Councilman Larry Siegel and is shown in parenthesis.
SYRACUSE — During the Syracuse Town Council’s regular monthly meeting, Mike Noe, town manager, read the following statement into the record:
“The Town of Syracuse has been working with government agencies, senators, legislators and other interested parties to determine the issue of repair and ownership (of the Turkey Creek Memorial Dam, a lake level control device located on Turkey Creek west of SR 13 in Syracuse,) of the lake level control device located on Turkey Creek just west of SR 13 in Syracuse. The renewed interest began several months ago when residents of the lake area surrounding the town came to a town council meeting inquiring about the responsibility for repair of the dam. Prior to that meeting the town had spent some $80,000 trying to identify and solve the repair issues.
“Consequently, the town felt it should research the ownership issue and try to determine who was responsible for the dam’s repair. The present town manager and town council members were aware that the town had entered into an agreement with the Department of Natural Resources in 1992 to monitor and control the water level maintained by the dam. However, upon research by the local town attorney and reputable title company, the title to the dam and surround area is still vested in the original owners and heirs of Samuel Crosson and Henry Ward dating back to 1837. The town cannot find a title transferring such interest.
“Councilman Siegel met with the DNR in March 2019 to discuss the ownership and control issue. The DNR was given the title information, but did not want to assume ownership nor did they believe they were the owners of the dam. The DNR further commented that they did not have funds to rehabilitate the dam. The DNR has been unable to explain why they had authority in 1992 to contract with the town, but do not have ownership at this time.
“Contact was made with state budge field representatives from the Department of Local Government Finance to determine the town’s authority to spend its funds on the dam. The representative indicated that Syracuse (could not spend its money and suggested the Town should contact the State Board of Accounts for additional verification) had no authority to spend its money and suggested the town should contact the State Board of Accounts. For additional verification. After Councilman Siegel made numerous attempts to contact the state, a veteran of the SBA emphatically said the town did not have such authority and again referred the town to the DNR.
“The town has now hired professionals in Indianapolis at the cost of $20,000 to find a solution. Through their efforts contact has been made with State Senators and State Representatives. Senator Blake Doriot has been most helpful and has proposed moving or soliciting funds from various sources. Research has also determined that the creation and utilization of a conservation district may be a means to resolve this issue.
“In conclusion the town has gone to extreme lengths to try to resolve (the repair issues relating to the Turkey Creek Memorial Dam.) the water level control device issue. After spending significant funds, the town has come to realize it does not have the authority to maintain the dam. The representatives of the town will continue to seek assistance and ask all interested parties to find a solution to the repair of this valuable community asset.”
During discussion from the floor on non-agenda items John Earnst and Bill Pipp along with Jim Silcox addressed the council. The three were asked last summer to head up a committee to look into solutions for fixing the flood control device.
Earnst gave a brief overview of the committee’s work since August 2018. With repairs estimated at around $600,000 for the dam, the committee looked at whether the town, the township and the state could each chip in $200,000.
In October, Earnst met with several officials in Indianapolis and learned there were no matching funds available from the DNR. He then spoke to Bob Meeks regarding what happened when the dam on Sylvan Lake gave way. At the time Build Indiana funds were available for repairs and residents created a conservancy which raised funds to fix the dam.
In meeting with the Turkey Township Trustee, Earnst learned the township doesn’t have the funds to pitch in $200,000 to assist with the repairs, but the township advisors agreed to provide $15,000 a year to assist with maintenance of the dam
By working a variety of resources, the committee was able to get $375,000 pledged. Earnst suggested the town do the repairs all at once rather than break it up into two phases, and get a loan for the remaining $125,000. He indicated the committee was ready to seek permits and let for bids.
Councilman Larry Siegel asked about ownership and funding.
Pipp pointed out there were immediate needs regarding the dam. He also questioned whether spending $20,000 for legal representation was a wise investment. He’s spoken to several attorneys in Indianapolis who are familiar with the problem for free. Those attorneys state the town assumed ownership in 1992. Vern Landis, town attorney, disputed that claim.
Regarding ownership of the dam, it was noted the town has accepted responsibility for maintaining the dam for 27 years and the state has stated it doesn’t own it.
Siegel pointed out there was no contract, the town doesn’t have jurisdiction beyond the water’s edge and there is no date to withdraw from maintaining the dam. He further stated Doriot attempted to pull funds from other projects and direct them to the dam but was stopped.
Siegel suggested the county drainage board may have authority over the dam.
Pipp noted the Wawasee Property Owners Association was trying to raise money from people in the area to create a conservancy. To date $5,000 has been raised. “The dam isn’t going to get better. Trying to get grants without knowing who owns it is going to be difficult,” he said.
Sue Ann Mitchell, president of the Kosciusko County Council stated if the town doesn’t have authority, the county may not either. She noted Mike Kissinger, county surveyor, can work “from the toe down, but he cannot work on the dam.” Those repairs would cost between $20,000-$30,000.
Mitchell suggested the town meet with Ed Rock, emergency management director, regarding a pre-emergency mediation grant. This grant is reimbursable, meaning the town would pay for the repairs up front with the state paying the town back. It is also a matching grant with the town required to match 25 percent of the grant. However, money spent before the grant is awarded cannot be counted toward the match.
Siegel said he believes the drainage board may have the authority over Turkey Creek since it’s referred to as drainage ditch.
Discussion turned to creating a conservancy which could take two years. To create a conservancy would require 2,500 stakeholders and those people would have to own 51 percent of the property value in the conservancy area. Pipp said he wasn’t concerned about getting it done, just how to go about it.
Silcox asked if the town could be given authority over the dam would it want it. Councilman Tom Hoover said no. Pipp pointed out if the dam gave way, the wastewater treatment plant would be taken out.
Silcox proposed the dam be considered a crown jewel of the community and if it wasn’t treated that way, the community stood to loose fishing, boating, international ice boating, the Oakwood Inn, local businesses, the marine sector and real estate, all dependent on Lake Wawasee.
“So why are we running away from the dam? If I could give you authority to get the funding, why would you say no?, ” Silcox asked. Noting failure was immanent “how do we explain to them (residents)? Who’s going to be named in the class action suit? There’s a lot of opinions in the legal world as to who’s responsible,” Silcox warned.
“People act out of fear and out of love. You ask us to love it, but we fear the cost,” Siegel said. “Pose the question to those who can really do it.”
Earnst said the job will take everyone in the community and needs to get done.
There is a fund accepting donations for the dam available through the Syracuse Park Foundation. For more information regarding making a donation call Chad Jonsson, park superintendent at (574) 457-3440.