Residents attending the Mid-States Corridor (RDA) Regional Development Authority (RDA) meeting last Friday expressed frustration with the perceived lack of communication on the part of the contractor tasked with determining the way forward on the Mid -States Corridor.
The Corridor is a proposed upgraded highway through Dubois County designed to connect the upgraded US 231 in Spencer County to Interstate 69.
The Mid-States Corridor RDA is overseeing the phased study conducted by the Indiana Department of Transportation through its contractor, Lochmüller Group. This RDA was the first to be formed under a law drafted in 2017 by Senator Mark Messmer and sponsored by then State Representative Mike Braun, which enabled the formation of these authorities to oversee and seek funding for large infrastructure projects.
Currently led by Mark Schroeder, the five members of the RDA are Sue Ellspermann, Ken Mulzer Jr., Scott Blazey and David Drake. Each member of the group was nominated and approved by county and town officials from the counties of Dubois and Spencer.
After completing its regular activities, the RDA opened the floor to comments from about 20 residents in attendance.
While some spoke out against the construction of the road, the majority of questions concerned communication between the public and the Lochmüller group. According to GDR lawyer Bill Kaiser, under the contract with INDOT, Lochmüller is responsible for community outreach during the study.
While the office on the VUJ campus has been closed for much of 2020 due to the pandemic and the Level I study has been on hold, the office has now reopened and Lochmüller plans to deliver the draft. environmental impact study this fall with a preferred corridor chosen.
During the GDR meeting, Sheila Wendholt, a member of the local Stop the Mid-States Corridor group, said she was unable to recover a petition containing more than 400 signatures that was mistakenly filed at the VUJ office operated by Lochmüller.
According to Mindy Peterson, spokesperson for the Lochmüller group on the project, the petition has been added to the study and is now considered a public record. “As part of the public record, the request for these items becomes more formalized and goes through INDOT and its public records program coordinator,” she wrote in an email response.
She added that anyone can request these public documents through the INDOT public information request page which can be found here.
Residents also asked for the results of the screening report questionnaire that was made available to the public to comment on proposed routes in early 2020. Specifically, opponents of the corridor want to know how many survey respondents wrote that ‘ they were against any improvement. road under construction in Dubois County.
According to Peterson, the February 2019 Screening Report questionnaire was designed to gather information in support of the environmental study that analyzes the benefits, impacts and costs of alternatives (such as man-made or natural features to take into account).
“The intention was never to assess support or opposition to the project, and we do not share any information that suggests so,” she explained, adding that the project team has considered and taken into account all the answers.
Some participants asked when Lochmüller would start allowing more public input into the process or organizing public sessions regarding the Level I study.
The draft environmental impact assessment (DEIS) is expected to be released this fall and will identify a preferred corridor, Peterson wrote. “The DEIS will be followed by a series of public hearings. The hearings will comply with the health directives in force at the time and will include a virtual component. Comments will also be accepted in person, online or by mail for a formal comment period of at least 30 days. All comments received will be processed by the project team and addressed in the final environmental impact study.
Kaiser told those in attendance at Friday’s meeting that the RDA will address the communication issues and raise those concerns to ensure Lochmüller meets its contractual obligations.
There was also a discussion about private donors to the project. The Level I study was funded by public funds as well as private donors. A list of private donors to the project has been provided but under Indiana law donors to a public entity have the right to remain private. As such, an abbreviated list of donors wishing to be identified as donors for the Level I study was provided to those who requested public records.
Kaiser explained that when the donor request was made, each donor was informed that they had the right to disclose or not to disclose their identity. The public record provided only lists those who authorized the disclosure, including Jasper Engines and Transmissions, Radius Indiana, Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, Ackerman Oil, Inc., Cook Group, Spencer Industries, Inc., Universal Technologies, Blackbird Manufacturing , Unique Granite and Marble, and Olon Industries, Inc.
Also at the RDA meeting:
-Disbursements and claims approved for the level I study. The RDA approved the payment of $ 780,000 to INDOT for the upcoming expenses of the study.
– I heard that the RDA website is still under construction. It will include documents regarding the formation of the RDA as well as minutes and information from RDA meetings.