NORTH JUDSON — The newly formed Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission conducted its first meeting last month, and discussed its long-term goal of advancing the "safety, economic prosperity, and quality of natural resources” in Northwest Indiana.
The panel, tasked by the state legislature with coordinating river stewardship for eight Indiana counties, was created earlier this year to succeed the Kankakee River Basin Commission, which served the region for more than four decades.
“I served as chairman of the KRBC in its infancy,” said newly elected commission chair and St. Joseph County Surveyor John McNamara. “After decades of work, it is deeply gratifying to lead this next level of commitment to flood protection, economic development and natural resources in our region.”
While establishing the framework of its long-term operations, the Commission adopted as its mission statement, “The Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission advances Northwest Indiana’s safety, economic prosperity, and quality of its natural resources.”
Likewise, the Commission formally stated its vision as, “The Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission is building a region where its residents, farms, and communities prosper in concert with one of the nation’s most unique natural environments.”
In establishing the framework for long-term operations, the commission adopted as its mission statement, formally stated as, “The Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission is building a region where its residents, farms, and communities prosper in concert with one of the nation’s most unique natural environments,” McNamara said.
Also elected were Lake County Surveyor Bill Emerson as vice-chair; Porter County Engineer Michael Novotney as secretary; and Starke County Surveyor Bill Crase as treasurer. Other panel members include La Porte County farmer John Coulter Sr. of Westville, Jasper County Commissioner James Walstra, Marshall County Surveyor Craig Cultice, and Newton County farmer Rob Churchill.
Representing the State of Indiana is Ryan Mueller, Division of Water Director for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
With the exception of Mueller, all members were appointed by their respective county commissioners. Also invited were two, non-voting representatives of Illinois counties along the Kankakee River to serve in advisory roles.
“You might be able to come up with a group as good, but you could not name a commission stronger than this one,” commission’s executive director Scott Pelath said.
“Each member possesses significant expertise regarding the history and distinct challenges of the Kankakee and Yellow Rivers. Their mix of technical skills, lengthy practical experience and academic knowledge is remarkable.”
Following record flooding in 2018, the legislature responded by empowering a streamlined commission with long-term funding for flood control, erosion mitigation, and economic and natural resource development, Pelath said.
"The Kankakee and Yellow river basins are home to some of the world’s most productive farmland, historic communities, and tens of thousands of Indiana residents," he said. "Demonstrated increases in flood events have cost the state and local communities millions in repairs, emergency responses, economic disruption, and threats to regional revenue bases."
In other business, the Commission established the functionality of its statutorily-defined Technical Advisory Committee. McNamara appointed La Porte County Surveyor Anthony Hendricks to serve as committee chair, and Kim Peterson will represent Northwest Indiana’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Also serving their respective counties on the key advisory panel will be Jasper County Surveyor Vince Urbano, Lake County resident Tom Larson, Marshall County Commissioner Mike Delp, Newton County Surveyor Chris Knochel, Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke, St. Joseph County construction technician John Law, and Starke County farmer Dan Gumz.
The next meeting of the commission is scheduled for Aug. 22, at a location to be determined. All meetings of the commission and Technical Advisory Committee are open to the public.