The heavy rains, high winds, and flooding that plagued the Midwest as the remnants of Hurricane Ike passed through struck an especially hard blow in northwest Indiana and left quite a mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The heavy rains, high winds, and flooding came at an awkward time, necessitating hurried cleanup and repairs.
After Hurricane Ike trashed the northern Texas Gulf Coast, it degraded to a tropical storm and headed on a long, slow track into the heart of the Midwest by the weekend of September 12-13. There the storm’s heavy rains, strong winds, and flooding wreaked havoc in a wide swath. At least 17 people were killed, more than two million homes and businesses were left without power, and floodwaters surged unto roads and into some residential neighborhoods.
Indiana was heavily hit as torrential rains (four to ten inches in places) swelled rivers and sustained gale force winds over 40 mph damaged trees and buildings. By Monday, September 15, six Indiana residents were dead, 150,000 were without power, and a section of busy Interstate 80/94 remained partly closed. The storm-related death toll in Indiana rose to eight by September 19.
President Bush authorized the issuing of a major disaster declaration for the state of Indiana. Damages were particularly severe in northwestern Indiana, where some ten inches of rain fell in a matter of hours. The residents of three lakeshore counties -- Lake, LaPorte, and Porter – were declared eligible for federal disaster aid. At least 1,000 homes in the three counties were damaged, including about 300 that were severely damaged or destroyed.
All of this is to say that the remnants of Hurricane Ike reserved some of its worst punishment for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore locale. The 15,000-acre national park is long and narrow, stretching for nearly 25 miles along the southern shore of Lake Michigan from Gary, Indiana, on the west to Michigan City, Indiana, on the east. Parts of the park lie in all three of the lakeshore counties made eligible for federal disaster relief.
Indiana Dunes was left with the task of cleaning storm debris from several miles of beaches between Burns Waterway and West Beach (at the county line). Towards this end the park requested Park Service emergency funding.
The Park Service is particularly concerned about cleanup and repair efforts for the new Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, which is located on the west side of the Burns Waterway Harbor within the city limits of Portage. The 57-acre facility, which will offer parking for 125 cars, an accessible fishing pier, a riverwalk along Burns Waterway, a rehabilitated breakwater, various hike/bike trails, access to the beach, and a 3,500 square foot pavilion, is scheduled for dedication on October 16.
Park officials hope to have the cleanup and repairs completed at the new facility by October 15. Storm debris is the main problem, but because the construction project hadn’t been completed by the time the storm hit, beachfront erosion was heavier than it should have been. The need for salvaging operations and dredging along the shore necessitates the involvement of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as the U.S. Coast Guard.