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NIRPC Passes Illiana, Lowell Residents Outraged, Union Members Cheer

12 Dec

by Ken Davidson

In perhaps one of the most contentious public meetings of the year, a room full of people who face losing their farms and family homes squared off with union members looking for temporary jobs.  Union members cheered as NIRPC voted to approve the Illiana Toll Road while farmers cried.  Perhaps the best comment was from a Lowell resident who said “move the road closer to Cedar Lake and Crown Point since they want it so bad.”  That comment clearly points out the irony of communities who have nothing to lose weighing in on the fate of people’s homes in rural south county Indiana.

Christine Cid stood up to the machine once again and voted against the Illiana.  You will recall that Cid was the lone democrat on the County Council standing against the income tax.  This time Cid was joined by County Chair Thomas McDermott.  McDermott, acting as Mayor of Hammond, clearly stated that communities along the 80/94 corridor may be harmed by the southern corridor.  Thus, the question as to why Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson decided to support the controversial plan.  Freeman-Wilson would appear to have the most to lose with the construction of the tollway as she has pinned Gary’s revitalization hopes to the plan to be a transportation hub.  The Illiana Toll Road is expected to be a catalyst for the proposed Peotone Airport as well as a truck route to avoid congestion.  The primary economic growth Gary has seen in recent years has been along the 80/94 corridor.  In the event the Illiana is successful in removing even 20% of the truck traffic from the area, that could be a large loss in jobs and tax revenue for Gary.

The real story here is Governor Mike Pence.  Pence chimed in today praising the Board for passing the plan.  Pence would do well to remember his base if he plans to run for re-election.  It seems that he was outmaneuvered politically during this entire process.  Maybe we will see a Governor McDermott after all.

EXPERT: FAA Says Hammond Air Show Not Possible

27 Nov

by Ken Davidson

Rudy Malnati, CEO of Midwest Air Shows, Inc, spoke exclusively to the Gazette today.   Malnati makes it clear that he looked at every option to bring the Gary Air Show to the Whiting/Robertsdale area.  “The FAA requires a 5 mile ring which makes the Whiting location impossible if you have jets or military aircraft” Malnati said.  Even without military aircraft, the required 3 mile requirement could not be met according to Malnati.  “We looked at every possible option . . . believe me, I would rather have it in Hammond.” He said.   Malnati manages air shows for Chicago, Milwaukee, and Rockford.

These comments echo the statements of South Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau President and CEO Speros Batistatos.  In a conversation, Batistatos made clear the choice presented to him was not Gary or Fair Oaks.  “The choice was whether we would have an air show or not” Batistatos replied when asked about the decision to hold the event at Fair Oaks.  “I would love to keep it on the lake . . . Marquette Park (in Gary’s Miller section) was designed in no small way to accomodate the air show.”  The public-private partnership with Fair Oaks will provide the best event according to Batistatos.  “Fair Oaks is a local business that is globally recognized for innovation.”  He stated.  

Batistatos admitted that he had not thought about public transportation prior to being asked on a radio show about the issue but replied “We have worked with Everybody Counts in the past.  Trustee Frank MrVan and Everybody Counts have cooperated to get people to events [such as the Lake County Fair].”  When asked if local parking and public transit could be  a way for local communities to capitalize on the event Batistatos replied “I am open to any conversation about making this event a success.”  “We are an organization of action.” He concluded. 

 

 

 

Gary Airport Authority Fails to Comply with Davis-Bacon; Other Legal Requirements

21 Nov

by Ken Davidson

The Indiana State Board of Accounts has issued a comprehensive report indicating that the Gary Chicago Airport Authority (GCIA) failed to comply with the Davis-Bacon Act which requires prevailing wages be paid on public works projects. The stunning finding was just one of many findings by the Board. In so finding the Board stated:

Davis-Bacon Act

Airport Management relies upon paid consultants to ensure compliance with the Davis-Bacon Act
(payment of prevailing wages).

1. The contractors submitted payment applications to the Project Engineers. Before the Project
Engineers approved the payment, the Project Engineers must receive the certified weekly
payrolls from the Contractor. The Project Engineers stated that they ensured the wages paid
equal or exceed the applicable prevailing wage rates. However, no indication was made on
the copies of the certified payrolls or other forms of documentation maintained as evidence
that such reviews were conducted.

2. A system of controls to ensure all certified payrolls were received did not exist.

3. The management of the Airport Authority did not receive any correspondence from the paid
consultants to ensure compliance with the Davis-Bacon Act.

Additionally, the Board pointed out that the GCIA was required to repay nearly $10 million to the Regional Development Authority because it failed to properly account for the money. It appears that this finding may result in an additional $10 million in Federal and State grants requiring repayment. The Board found that the Authority billed invoices to the RDA, the US Department of Transportation and the Indiana Department of Transportation and received reimbursement from each. The system was supposed to provide a total of $9,917,559.93. Instead the GCIA received that amount from both Federal and RDA coffers.

The Board also found that the GCIA awarded change orders totalling over 20% of the bid price. The law states that change orders cannot exceed 20% of the total bid price.

The report goes on and on, reporting a litany of violations. This report covers the time period before the current board took over. You will recall that the Gazette has reported that Nathaniel Williams was President of the GCIA Board at this time. Nathaniel Williams was also in charge of maintaining the records at the Gary Housing Authority when they lost hundreds of properties to tax sale, failed to make repairs with grants that had been awarded and failed to utilize insurance proceeds to repair burned out properties. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson appointed Williams to the Airport position after many of the issues at GHA were discovered.