The Members of this Board serve as representatives of the residents of their respective districts. I am asking that you serve the interests of those constituents and protect them from governmental overreach. Taking homes prior to a full funding grant agreement is the most egregious breach of your duties to your consitituents.” Julie O’Connor, Concerned Families of the West Lake Corridor Project
July 30, 2017-At a meeting of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District on Friday, the Board approved a resolution to move forward with the process of acquiring and demolishing homes from Dyer to South Bend. Both motions passed unanimously with Board members expressing confidence in the process despite questions from residents. At issue is whether NICTD should acquire homes when they receive a “project rating” expected to be in 2017 or wait until a full funding grant agreement is executed, which NICTD anticipates in 2019. Julie O’Connor, of the Concerned Families of the West Lake Corridor Project, explained:
“. . . at a meeting with residents on June 29, Mr. Noland explained that NICTD could end up acquiring homes even if NICTD never gets funding and the project never gets built due to that lack of federal funds. As you know, with what is going on in Washington and the FTA . . .indicating that it is unwilling to provide this funding in the future. Seizing private property through the eminent domain process should be the option of last resort and it should not be permitted on the hope that this project gets funded. It is wrong to allow NICTD to displace any residents based on speculation. The Members of this Board serve as representatives of the residents of their respective districts. I am asking that you serve the interests of those constituents and protect them from governmental overreach. Taking homes prior to a full funding grant agreement is the most egregious breach of your duties to your consitituents. Please do not allow NICTD to take homes prior to a full funding grant agreement”
O’Connor had previously appeared before the Lake County Board of Commissioners to ask the Commissioners to support a resolution calling for NICTD to hold off on property acquisition and demolition until a full funding grant agreement was obtained. (See http://nwigazette.com/2017/07/20/area-residents-group-south-shore-plans-to-take-homes-even-if-there-is-no-funding-for-west-lake/ ) According to O’Connor, over 100 homes and many businesses are at stake. “These homes and businesses will be taken off the tax rolls for years before construction even begins” O’Connor told the Gazette in a written statement.
NICTD CEO Michael Noland responded to the statements by simply reiterating that the law allows NICTD to acquire property at the time a “rating” is received. “There is significant property acquisitions that will need to occur on all actually all three of our projects including the airport relocation project in South Bend. We will only do it [acquire and demolish homes] in a careful manner in which we look towards the Federal Government . . . obviously if the President’s budget was followed in Congress and they zeroed out funds for future projects, we’d certainly have to . . .I am sure the Board would have to take a different look at how we move forward. . . That’s the approach that, unfortunately, you don’t know until the very end that you have gotten that full funding grant agreement so that’s the pathway we have to take.” Board President Christine Cid, of Lake County, chimed in that “I think I might add, it is important that we have been educating owners of those properties as to the process.” Christine Cid did not reply to our question but to our knowledge has never attended a meeting where NICTD explained the process to homeowners. In fact, the timeline above was not discussed until the most recent meeting of homeowners in Dyer.
Lake County Commissioner Michael C. Repay moved that the resolutions authorizing the acquisition and demolition move forward. The resolutions passed unanimously, with Repay, Cid and St. Joseph County Councillor Mark Katanzarite all expressing the utmost confidence in NICTD staff. Real estate acquisitions are being handled by new NICTD employee Cassandra Francis. Francis previously worked for Mayor Richard Daley in his failed bid to obtain the 2016 Olympics. Chicago will pay $50M in interest on bonds that were utilized to purchase property for the failed olympic bid according to the Chicago Tribune. (see http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-olympics-chicago-2016-met-20160715-story.html). More important, the neighborhood where the olympic village was slated to go sits vacant today.
See the full meeting video below thanks to Tom Davis of Munster: