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Questions, frustrations apparent at Mid-States Corridor meeting

The five-member board of the Mid-States Corridor Regional Development Authority attempted to field many questions that were raised by property owners at Friday’s quarterly meeting.

Currently led by Mark Schroeder, the RDA’s five members include Sue Ellspermann, Ken Mulzer Jr., Scott Blazey, and David Drake. Each member of the group was appointed and approved by elected county and city officials in Dubois and Spencer counties.

The Mid-States Corridor is a proposed improved highway through Dubois County designed to connect the improved U.S. 231 in Spencer County to Interstate 69.

The Mid-States Corridor RDA is overseeing the phased study being conducted by the Indiana Department of Transportation through their contractor, Lochmueller Group. This RDA was the first to be formed under a law authored in 2017 by Senator Mark Messmer and sponsored by then-State Representative Mike Braun that allowed the formation of these authorities to oversee and seek funding for large infrastructure projects.

Chairman Schroeder explained the RDA is in place to represent the interests of the local governments represented on the authority as well as act as the fiscal agent for the study currently underway.

“Really the majority of our role at this point is to pay the invoices. The RDA pays INDOT and then, INDOT pays the Lochmueller Group,” he said.

The RDA then went through its agenda items (at end of story) before opening the floor for questions and comments from the 23 attendees.

For many of the questions asked by the public, the RDA referred them to the Lochmueller Group and INDOT although they did try to answer most questions asked.

Here are a few of those questions:

How much is the Tier I study going to cost?

Originally estimated to be about $7 million, that figure was lowered to about $6.5 million and the current contract is not to exceed $6.5 million. That cost is split between private donors and government entities.

Who are the private investors in the Tier I study?

Bill Kaiser, legal counsel for the group, stated anyone wanting a list of the private investors could submit a written request to the RDA office at 212 W. Sixth Street, Jasper, Ind., 47546.

The Dubois County Free Press requested this list the day this article was published.

Where did the public money for the Tier I study come from?

The City of Jasper has agreed to contribute $1.4 million to the study, The City of Huntingburg agreed to $350,000 and Dubois County was asked to contribute $1.75 million.

How long is an appointment on the Midstate Corridor RDA?

The term on the RDA is four years and members can be reappointed for another four-year term.

Who appointed the RDA members?

Each member of the RDA was appointed by the counties — Spencer and Dubois — and cities — Huntingburg and Jasper — involved in the project.

Why are other counties and cities potentially impacted by the Mid-States Corridor not members of the Mid-States Corridor RDA?

Kaiser explained that counties and municipalities can only have membership in a single RDA according to state statute. He surmised that unlike Spencer County, Dubois County, Huntingburg and Jasper, these other counties and cities don’t yet know the recommended route and if it will impact them so they are abstaining from joining the RDA until that information is known.

Is the checking account being held by German American Bank a conflict of interest for the RDA chair Mark Schroeder?

Schroeder as president and CEO of German American Bank abstained from the vote regarding the decision of what bank the RDA would use.

An attendee also asked about the interest being earned by the account held at GAB. The RDA declared $462.01 in interest earned on the checking account held at GAB in 2020.

Schroeder was also asked if his membership on the board of Dubois Strong could be construed as a conflict of interest. Schroeder stated he had never sat on the board of Dubois Strong and had only spoken at their annual luncheon due to his role in the RDA.

“I serve on this board (RDA) as a private citizen and it has nothing to do with my day job,” Schroeder said. “I’ve never been on the Dubois Strong board. My employer has representation on the board as well as several other boards.”

Further, in regards to potential conflicts of interest on the board, Kaiser stated the RDA was complying with INDOT’s definition of conflict of interests because INDOT is conducting the study through its chosen contractor, Lochmueller Group.

Has the RDA received money from Dubois Strong?

No, according to Kaiser.

As part of the fundraising, could the RDA accept money from outside the impacted areas?

Yes, however, fundraising for the Tier I study has closed since the study is funded.

Why was a no-build choice not available on the public surveys provided by the Lochmueller Group?

The RDA declined to answer this question pointing to the Lochmueller Group as the appropriate source of that answer. However, in documenation on the Midstates Corridor website, Lochmueller Group’s scope of project document explains that the no-build option is the baseline option for the study.

“The study will include evaluation of improvements to and use of existing facilities and construction of new roadway facilities. A no-build alternative will be evaluated to serve as a baseline for comparison.” From the Public Involvement Plan here.

Why do the results of the Lochmueller survey not include the number of individuals writing in the no-build option?

Again, referred to Lochmueller.

Frustration

During the comment period at the meeting held last Friday, it became apparent those attending were frustrated at the inability to reach or receive answers from the Lochmueller Group and INDOT.

Schroeder and Kaiser stated the RDA would look into what was occurring in regards to the public outreach and information process being handled by the contractor. But, they also informed the attendees that with the state shutting its offices down due to the pandemic, Lochmueller was also directed to shut down the office on the VUJ campus. However, the office had recently reopened by appointment only.

The Project Team can be reached online (info@midstatescorridor.com) or by phone (812-482-3116). Mail can still be sent to the following address: Mid-States Corridor Project Office
Vincennes University Jasper Campus
Administration Building, Room 216
Jasper, IN 47546

They also expressed frustration about the lack of public input and questioned when that would occur. Kaiser explained that with the pandemic and the adjusted timeline, those public hearings had not been scheduled.

Lochmueller Group issued an updated timeline after this story was published. It can be viewed here.

He expressed there was some concern on how to conduct those public hearings due to the large number attending previous events — about 600 people showed up for a public meeting held at the Jasper Middle School in February of 2020.

The effect the pandemic has had on the timeline for the Tier I study is also frustrating property owners as they remain in limbo waiting to find out if their properties will be impacted by the route or not.


Meeting information

As it was the first meeting of the year, the authority went through the process of appointing officers. They voted to keep the officers the same with Schroeder as chair, Mulzer as vice-chair, and Ellspermann as secretary.

Schroeder then gave an overview of the organization’s financial report. As of year end, the group had $1,191,777 in the checking account with $1,083,500 in pledged receivables from those governmental and private entities for total assets of $2,275,277. In the final quarter of 2020, the checking account held at German American Bank had earned $462.01 in interest.

The RDA paid INDOT $2,642,000 in 2020 for project expenses paid to the Lochmueller Group for the Tier I environmental study.

Schroeder also gave an update on the status of the Tier I study. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, the study was slowed in 2020. Originally, Lochmueller had planned on narrowing the route from five alternatives to a single path by mid-2020. Then, in the fall, the group would begin hosting hearings for public comment on the proposed route.

It’s fair to assume this project has been on hold for 10 going on 11 months now,” Schroeder explained adding that the Lochmueller Group is expected to issue a new timeline for the study and public hearings sometime in the coming weeks.

“We aren’t in control of that,” he added addressing the audience. “We hear it and see it pretty much the same time you all will.”

He then explained that in the coming months, the RDA should have its own website up and running for the public to view its minutes as well as its financial documents and organizational paperwork.

He then added that this website was mainly informational regarding the RDA and the Lochmueller website (https://midstatescorridor.com/) would continue to have more information on the status of the study.