Rep. Baird: As Lake Freeman drains, confident we can find a solution

Another summer has come to an end. But unlike past summers this one was challenging and frustrating for the Monticello community.

Summers in Monticello are a time for residents and tourists to relax and enjoy Lakes Freeman and Shafer. These lakes have been a hallmark of summer vacations for years. Families gather for outdoor concerts and fireworks on the lake. Boaters from all over the state and country would come and enjoy this little slice of paradise.

Unfortunately, this year, that was all cut short due to the water levels on Lake Freeman lowering to a dangerous level. Brought on by drought and exacerbated by a ruling from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the communities surrounding the lakes suffered the inability to utilize the amenities normally affiliated with the lake.  

In 2014, U.S. Fish and Wildlife issued a ruling that required NIPSCO to release water from the Oakdale Dam in what is called a “run of river” flow rate. They issued this ruling to protect species of mussels in the Tippecanoe River that are listed on the Endangered Species List. This rule has brought devastating consequences to the area.

Businesses like the Madam Carroll are having difficulty keeping their businesses afloat. Tall Timbers, a marina that helps prepare and store boats for the winter, is unable to do its job due to the low water levels.

But this is not just an economic issue. The lakes’ ecosystems are at risk as well. 

I want to reassure you and the community that I’m working hard to find a solution that will save the lakes and help the city of Monticello.

In August, I met with and spoke to members of the Shafer & Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corp., U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission numerous times to work out a plan and find a solution to this problem. I spoke with U.S. Fish and Wildlife on Sept. 17. I visited the Tippecanoe River with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and a DNR mussel biologist on Sept. 21 to examine the mussels in the river, I hosted a video call with NIPSCO, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the SFLECC on Sept. 26 to get all parties together to discuss what can be done.

I am committed to finding a permanent solution, my office will continue to make additional phone calls to federal agencies, communicate updates with stakeholders, host video calls, attend local meetings and most importantly listen to the concerns and ideas from the community.

By coming together, I am confident we can find a permanent solution that works for everyone.

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