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Monday, January 11, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "Bill could lead to alcohol at Dunes State Park pavilion"

Adding to the many, many ILB posts on issues relating to the Indiana Dunes Pavilion project, Rob Earnshaw of the NWI Times reported Friday:

CHESTERTON — A new bill could pave the way for alcohol to flow at the Indiana Dunes State Park pavilion.

State Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, has introduced Senate Bill 188, which would require the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to issue a three-way permit to the Department of Natural Resources for one or more state parks if a proper application is made. The bill would exempt a local board investigation and hearing on the application.

Pavilion Partners LLC is appealing a decision in October by the ATC to uphold a local board's decision to deny a liquor license for a restaurant in the pavilion being restored at the state park.

Dunes Action, an opponent of a liquor license, released a statement Friday calling for all Indiana residents to contact their state senators and ask them to strongly oppose the bill.

“This appears to be an attempt to circumvent the normal permitting process,” said Desi Robertson, of Dunes Action. “If this bill passes, it would eliminate public input and local board approval for any alcohol permit applied for by the IDNR." * * *

“We were afraid of this,” said Jim Sweeney of the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League."The state needs to fund our parks adequately so we don’t have to sell booze or auction off public assets for funding.”

Merritt said Indiana has a lot of state parks and alcohol permits are economic drivers. Merritt referenced the inn being built at Potato Creek State Park, where a celebration of the state's bicentennial anniversary is being planned.

"To depend on things like a caterer to have a liquor permit is just another inefficient way," he said.

The bill also exempts requirements regarding the character of the permit applicant. In December Chuck Williams, principal of Pavilion Partners, filed a defamation lawsuit against the operators of a website that has accused him of public corruption and spreading alleged defamatory statements to others in order to undermine the pavilion project.

Merritt said he has not spoken with Williams, nor is the bill a slap at the hundreds who turned out to oppose the pavilion liquor license at the local board hearing.

That said, Merritt doesn't think the bill will go anywhere. "I sincerely doubt it gets a hearing," he said.

The Chesterton Tribune has this story by Kevin Nevers that reports:
Dunes Action is urging Hoosiers to protest Senate Bill 188, which the organization said could allow increased sales and consumption of alcohol in Indiana state parks.

Introduced by State Sen. James Merritt, R-31st--whose district includes portions of Marion and Hamilton counties and Fort Harrison State Park--the bill would require the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (IATC) to issue a liquor permit to the Department of Natural Resources on behalf of a state park “if a proper application is made.”

SB 188 more specifically exempts the DNR from “local board investigation and hearing on the application,” from “quota restrictions,” and from “requirements regarding the character of the permit applicant and the location of the permit.”

“This appears to be an attempt to circumvent the normal permitting process,” said Desi Robertson of Dunes Action. “If this bill passes, it would eliminate public input and local board approval for any alcohol permit applied for by the IDNR,” she said. “It looks as if they are trying to undermine local control.”

“The IDNR should not be exempt from the normal application review process,” Robertson added. “This bill would eliminate public notice and public comment in the case of all IDNR liquor applications, and would also reduce the authority of the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to deny a license.”

More than 500 Northwest Indiana residents attended a public hearing last year to protest the issuance of a liquor license to Pavilion Partners LLC at Indiana Dunes State Park, and more than 1,200 have signed a petition or sent letters to the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission stating their opposition to any reintroduction of alcohol in the park, Robertson noted.

Dunes Action speculated that driving the bill might be a DNR plan to use alcohol sales to paper over funding shortfalls. “We were afraid of this,” said Jim Sweeney of the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League. “The state needs to fund our parks adequately so we don’t have to sell booze or auction off public assets for funding.”

The story goes on to quote Senator Merritt:
Merritt, for his part, told the Chesterton Tribune that he hadn’t been expecting the “slew” of calls his office received on Thursday from unhappy people in Valparaiso.

“This has struck a nerve,” he conceded. But it’s a nerve whose rawness Merritt said he’s “just barely” acquainted with.

“I have not invested any time in familiarizing myself” with the Pavilion flap, Merritt said. “I have no in-depth understanding of it.” So he was glad to have his colleague in the Senate, Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, brief him. “That was enlightening.”

In fact, Merritt said, the point of the bill is a simple one: “My intent was to make state parks competitive with their competition.”

More specifically, Merritt’s intent is to make the Fort Harrison State Park Inn--with the Garrison Restaurant and Conference Center and the Fort Golf Resort--more competitive with the many restaurants, hotels, and recreation options in the area. “It’s simpler for operations if the state park has the permit and doesn’t have to worry about its caterers getting one,” he said. “The park doesn’t have to worry about insurance and other things. Liquor permits are part of economic development and the simpler economic development is, the better, I think.”

Merritt was emphatic on one point: Northwest Indiana residents who don’t share his view about the value of SB 188 should absolutely contact their legislators and voice their displeasure. “Make sure your representative knows how you feel,” he said. “This bill is not on grease. It still has to come out of committee. It’s not going to skid through to home plate. I’m quite transparent about it. If it’s not popular, it’s not going to pass. Maybe in other parts of the state, people won’t like it. I don’t know.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 11, 2016 08:35 AM
Posted to Indiana Government