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Communities try to avoid lakefront disaster with no help from state

BEVERLY SHORES — The mayor of Chicago and governor of Illinois issued local disaster proclamations this week to bring in funding help for lakefront areas hard hit by erosion.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker said the challenges along the lakefront are too much for the city to handle alone.

The proclamations will allow emergency funds to respond to damage and allow communities to apply for federal funding.

“If you don’t believe in climate change, Lake Michigan has a message for you: Wake up. Look what’s happening here,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in response to the lakefront damage, which has forced the closure of at least two Chicago beaches.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects Lake Michigan water levels to remain high for at least several months.

The agency also says future storms will cause further shoreline erosion, but unlike their Illinois counterparts, state officials in Indiana have rejected a disaster declaration.

That comes in spite of forced beach closures in Long Beach, Beverly Shores, Ogden Dunes and Portage; and erosion threatening to destroy homes and roadways all along the Northwest Indiana shoreline.

The lack of state help has led officials in Beverly Shores to attempt to ease the erosion emergency by creating a Non-Reverting Gift Fund to supply urgent financial aid for the crisis.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has refused to declare an emergency, which denies access to FEMA funds. Porter County has also denied further funding after assisting with signs along Lake Front Drive.

“We’ve used all of our funds to repair the most massive erosion scours immediately threatening Lake Front Drive, but the erosion is relentless this year,” Beverly Shores Town Council President Geof Benson said.

“Personal safety, parking lots and all of the infrastructure under the road are at great risk.”

In addition, Lake Front Drive provides the only access to the lakeshore for the Indiana Dunes National Park and World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes, both sources of major tourist revenue, he said.

Homeowners Nancy and Steven Schwab helped organize the fund. They own a home in direct line of a massive scour.

“It’s very frightening,” Nancy Schwab said. “What if there’s an emergency situation such as a fire or a serious health matter and emergency vehicles can’t get to our homes? What if the gas lines under the road explode?”

The fund has raised about $40,000, but current estimates place the cost of mitigation in the hundreds of thousands.

Donations are being accepted by The Town of Beverly Shores and are tax deductible, Town Clerk Ellen Hundt said. “Anyone who finds joy in the lakefront can contribute, not just residents of Beverly Shores.”

Benson said residents have attempted other methods to hold back the water.

“People have really stepped up with incredible skill sets, from driving a bulldozer to calculating engineering specifics to coordinating an elected representative campaign,” she said.

“But it’s going to take more than a bake sale to raise the kind of funds we need. We are one storm away from losing the road. We need that help now.”

Town Marshal Ed Clapp implemented weight restrictions on trucks accessing the lakefront, and a reduced speed limit of 15 mph to help preserve the road, which has gas, electric and water utilities underneath.

Ogden Dunes, another Porter County lakefront community facing major erosion issues, is home to state Sen. Karen Tallian, who along with fellow Democrat Pat Boy of Michigan City, sent the letter to Holcomb requesting a disaster declaration.

But the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said there isn’t enough damage to public resources to warrant federal disaster funds.

“To date, we are unaware of any loss of infrastructure (i.e. roads, bridges, public utilities, etc.) which would qualify for public assistance funding from federal or state disaster relief programs,” IDHS executive director Stephen Cox wrote in a letter to the lawmakers.

IDHS, and other state and federal agencies, have been monitoring the beach erosion, Cox wrote. He pointed out that Michigan hasn’t deemed a disaster or sought FEMA funds either.

Tallian said although the lake hasn’t damaged “public” infrastructure yet, there’s an urgent need for resources to prevent that from happening.

She pointed out that support beams for porches at lake-adjacent homes in Long Beach have collapsed; lake water has made its way past barriers and exposed septic fields, possibly resulting in sewage seeping into the lake.

She said Beverly Shores has already spent a “big pile of money” to prevent Lake Front Drive from getting washed out. “Surely we don’t have to wait until the road is in the lake before we can ask for assistance.”

Many affected communities have declared local beach erosion emergencies; and the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission has created a committee to demand a more helpful response from state and federal authorities.

The National Park Service has worked with Beverly Shores to provide trap bags along Lake Front Drive, because the erosion is threatening areas of the Indiana Dunes National Park.

“We wouldn’t allow that kind of work if it was only to protect private homes,” Park Supt. Paul Labovitz said. “If East Lake Front Drive goes, it will make that part of the park harder to get to.”

Also impacted could be one of the park’s historic attractions – the Century of Progress Homes from the 1933 World’s Fair, located on East Lake Front Drive.

Labovitz said he is working with Indiana Landmarks, a statewide historic preservation organization, to possibly move homes in danger of destruction. The Stone and Florida houses are two that may be moved inland.

The superintendent said a long-term answer is needed, not a temporary fix.

“The lake is on a 30-year cycle; what can we do now as current managers to prevent something like this from happening again?” he said.

“I’m hopeful that the state, federal and local communities can exist in a sustainable way along the lake.”

Officials are also warning people to use caution along the lake.

Clapp urges people to avoid the scour areas.

“The sand will collapse if you get too close, and with the amount of debris there is very dangerous,” he said.

“The more people that go down there the weaker it gets. You can walk it 10 times and then the 11th time is the limit. You just don’t know.”

Labovitz agreed, noting that while several beaches – from Long Beach to Portage – are closed, the high waves and lack of shelf ice have attracted “as many visitors to the beach this winter as in summer.”

He cautioned visitors to “make good decisions.”

Barker students offer history lesson

MICHIGAN CITY — Barker Middle School students are again making history with their history projects.

This year the school is sending 18 groups of seventh- and eight-graders to the National History Day Northwest Regional Competition on Feb. 22 at John Young Middle School in Mishawaka.

Although the school sent close to that number last year, the assignment that earned this distinction is still fairly new at the school.

Mariah Pol, who teaches social studies was “trying to think of creative things to do” a few years back when she attended an educational conference.

After hearing the history fair idea, she first incorporated it into a “Historical Explorers” after-school club for seventh- and eighth-graders, then gradually wove it into the regular classroom curriculum for the past three years.

Seventh-grade social studies teacher Michael Eldridge, who is new this year at Barker, also assigned his students the project this year.

They could choose from five formats for their project: an exhibit board containing 500 words, a website with no more than 1,200 words, a documentary or performance 5-10 minutes in length, or a research paper of 1,500-2,500 student-composed words.

The kids could also choose their own partners and were given about two months to complete the project – both in and out of the classroom.

Nearly 300 paired up into 117 groups. Many chose a poster as they are familiar with that format from science fair projects, but several chose the more challenging formats. A few even performed short skits.

“The project connected a novel that the students were reading in their English Language Arts classes,” Eldridge said.

His seventh-grade students read “A Long Walk to Water,” based on a Sudanese lost boy. Pol’s seventh-graders were assigned “Amal Unbound” – the story of a young girl in Pakistan; and her eighth-graders read “Refugee,” a book about characters in Nazi Germany, 1990s Cuba, and modern Syria.

“I love how the project gives students choice,” Pol said. “They were able to choose within that country what topic interested them the most and then decide how to present based on their own skill set.”

In addition to Pol and Eldridge, Michigan City Area Schools Supt. Barbara Eason-Watkins, associate superintendent Wendel McCollum, and director of curriculum Cathy Bildhauser judged the students’ entries.

The students presented projects in the school library and answered interview questions they had prepared for. Twenty-five teams were chosen to proceed to the regional history fair, and 18 committed to participate.

Seventh-graders Ryan Darschewski and Emilio Munoz chose a poster project – “Fleeing Genocide in Sudan.”

“We learned about how the life was of a refugee or a lost boy – the point of view of someone fleeing from the genocide in Sudan,” Munoz said.

“We picked this topic because it was interesting and fairly recent – in the 2000s – and the kids going through this were about our age.”

“We learned about the lifestyle changes they had to make to survive as they walked from one refugee camp to another,” Darschewski said. “We learned about where they are now since the war ended.”

Eighth-grade partners Tessa Monger and Brayden Westphal chose a documentary on the George Rogers Clark Campaign.

“I learned that he had played a big role in the Revolutionary War,” Monger said.

“We wanted to do something harder so it would give us a better chance of getting in (the regionals),” Westphal said. “It also had some Illinois and Indiana history to it.”

“They really want to win the $1,000 college scholarship awarded for an entry on Indiana history,” Pol said.

Westphal pointed out that Clark had several siblings, including youngest brother, William, who co-led the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Monger said several schools in Indiana are named after George Rogers Clark.

Kamar Scully and Dianna Lyon created a poster titled “Breaking Barriers – Underground Railroad” for their project.

“I wanted to learn more about the Underground Railroad because it’s important to my family’s history,” Scully said.

“I learned more about how the Underground Railroad functioned and how other abolitionists, including Levi Coffin whose section was in Indiana, were involved.”

They also learned that they also went to Canada – “They just didn’t stay in the United States,” Lyon said.

Lyon and another student, Jeremiah Allen, were partners last year and advanced to state competition. Their history project was a website about the Samurai arsenal, as the theme was Japan.

This year Allen, who has an aptitude for technology, is advancing to the regional level again with another website titled “The Armenian Genocide.”

“It was a learning curve for us because the website builder we are supposed to use changed this year,” Pol said.

“I learned that their genocide was the first documented by the United State government, and that Turkey and Armenia used to be together forming the Ottoman Empire,” Allen said.

Bailey Chavis, Brielle Jones, and Hannah Parker also chose a documentary for their “Lost Girls of Sudan” project.

“We thought it would be the most challenging of all the options. It was, too – it actually took a long time. I have a lot of respect for people who edit films because it is not as easy as it looked,” Chavis said.

Interview excerpts of some of the Lost Girls were included in addition to recordings of the three Barker students speaking.

“We explained the war, what happened to these girls, and the difference in the media coverage between the girls and the boys,” Chavis said. “I found it very amazing how few girls actually made it to America compared to the boys.”

“I learned how forgotten and unrecognized the girls were compared to the boys and how they were mistreated compared to the boys,” Jones said.

Parker agreed: “I learned how forgotten they were and how the girls had many more issues compared to the boys such as being forced into marriage, stolen from their families, and abused.

“It was hard to put everything together and hard emotionally to talk about the girls’ issues because of all they had to go through.”

She said her group chose a documentary because, “We wanted to do something different and it was a great way to explain how we felt about the issue and to use our different tones of voice to show the seriousness of the issue.”

Pol said all the projects required many English language arts skills, including how to properly cite their sources in a MLA (modern language association) format.

“It taught them a lot of skills that will help them in high school and in college,” Pol said. “They learned perspectives, the impact of cause and effect, and short-term and long-term on their event, how to evaluate differences, and, of course, time management.”

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As temperatures drop, safety concerns rise

MICHIGAN CITY — With single-digit temperatures and below-zero wind chills expected, city officials are urging residents to take care of themselves, their families and pets in the bitter cold.

Mayor Duane Parry is urging residents to check on family, friends, neighbors, pets, and especially the elderly during the extreme cold forecast for Friday to ensure everyone stays healthy and safe.

The National Weather Service said overnight temperatures were expected to drop to about 9 degrees, but northwest winds of 10-20 mph would make it feel like -5.

Friday wasn’t going to warm much, with a high of 14 expected, and temps were again expected to fall to 10 degrees Friday night with wind gusts to 25 mph.

The mayor is also reminding citizens that several warming centers will be open Friday and throughout the winter season. Residents needing a break from the cold can stop in at:

Michigan City Police Station (24 hours), 1201 E. Michigan Blvd.

Michigan City Fire Administration Building (8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday), 2510 E. Michigan Blvd.

Michigan City Senior Center (8 a.m.-4 p,m,, Monday-Friday), 2 on the Lake

City Hall (8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday), 100 E. Michigan Blvd.

Michigan City Public Library (during regular business hours), 100 E. 4th St.

Keys to Hope Community Resource Center (8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday), 1802 Franklin Street

The mayor urges everyone to be prepared for cold outbreaks, adding that extreme weather can cause power outages, so have an emergency plan that includes pets. An emergency kit should include enough food, water, and medication to last you and your pets at least five days.

As for those pets, Parry reminds pet-owners to keep their animals safe this winter:

Know your dog’s limits: Some are more susceptible to cold, especially short-coated, thin, elderly, or very young dogs, so adjust the amount of time they stay outside.

Check the hood: Cats often sleep in the wheel wells of cars to keep warm. If you start your car and a cat is sleeping on your tire, it can be severely hurt or even killed by moving engine parts. Bang loudly on your hood or honk the horn before starting your car to wake up the cat and give it a chance to escape.

Wipe paws: During winter walks, a dog’s paws can pick up all kinds of toxic chemicals – salt, antifreeze, or de-icers – along with ice and snow. Be sure to wipe off paws when you return from walks to prevent them from licking and becoming sick.

Keep them leashed: More pets become lost in winter than any other season because snow can disguise the scents that would normally help them find their way home.

Leave them home: Just as hot cars are dangerous for pets in summer, cold cars pose a threat. Only take your pets in the car if necessary, and never leave them unattended.

Give them shelter: Ideally, pets should live inside. If your pets stay outdoors primarily, bring them indoors anyway during sub-zero temperatures. Provide a dry, draft-free shelter large enough to allow them to sit and lie comfortably, but small enough to conserve body heat.

Avoid spills: Antifreeze attracts cats and dogs because it is very sweet to taste, but extremely poisonous. Be sure to clean up any antifreeze that spills in your garage and keep the bottle somewhere pets cannot access.