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An open public work group process was held in Northwest Indiana in 1995 by the Lake Michigan Coastal Coordination Program to receive suggestions concerning the needs of the Lake Michigan Coastal Area. The process produced 865 possible solutions to challenges. These solutions addressed a wide array of issues. Included were such diverse topics as water quality, recreational access, exotic species, the protection of native plants and animals, the use of navigable waters, governmental coordination, private property rights, air quality, recycling, and establishing methods for meaningful environmental quality assessments.
The idea for a Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel was suggested by participants in the 1995 public work groups. People attending the work groups recommended a local group be constituted to continue with the work the work groups started. In an effort to prioritize issues and solutions, the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel was constitute by the DNR Director in August 1996. Members of the panel included community leaders representing a broad spectrum of interests. The Panel was invited to review these suggestions, and prioritize courses of action and policies needed for Indiana's Lake Michigan region. Another purpose of the Panel was to recommend who in state or local government or in the private sector is best equipped to address each priority. In addition, the members were asked to suggest methods of gauging the progress toward meeting the priorities.
The panel chose to focus their efforts upon one issue: governmental coordination and streamlining. Models for coordination and streamlining were provided from Indiana and other states. Examples of permit reviews were considered and analyzed. The panel also recognized a parallel initiative by the Lake Michigan Marina Development Commission directed to permit coordination.
Within the broad topic of governmental coordination and streamlining, the panel directed most of its attention to permitting processes in and along waterways. During the final meeting of the panel in August 1997, the membership adopted the following resolution:
The Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel recommends that the Natural Resources Commission bring the following proposal to the Indiana Governor:
Resolutions from the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel and the Lake Michigan Marina Development Commission have lead to two meetings between the DNR and the Detroit District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss improved permit coordination. Recent communications with the Detroit District reflected an interest in working with Indiana on the effort.
In addition the Lt. Governor's office helped bring together representatives of the LMMDC, IDEM, and DNR to respond to the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel resolution and LMMDC resolution. A determination was made to seek a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") between IDEM and DNR to help move permit coordination forward, with the understanding the Natural Resources Commission and Water Pollution Control Board also had important state regulatory roles. In addition, the design was to invite participation from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Lake Michigan Coastal Coordination Program presented the Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel's resolution to the Natural Resources Commission at its January 1998 meeting. The Natural Resources Commission responded positively to the efforts of the panel and suggested forwarding correspondence to the Governor to communicate the panel's resolution, and what steps were being taken in order to improve governmental coordination.