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CHESTERTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District has received a nearly $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for its South Shore Rail Line double track project. The money is on top of an approximately $50 million grant NICTD received in August.

While the Federal Transit Administration has allocated the funds, NICTD President Mike Noland says it is not “money in the bank.” However, he says the $100 million does indicate the FTA is still supportive of the project and is advancing toward a Full Funding Grant Agreement.

He hopes to hear from FTA in “early 2021” about the full funding.

Noland says NICTD has completed developing the engineering plans for the 26.6-mile rail project which will add a second set of South Shore Line tracks from Gary to Michigan City.

The $460 million project will also include an upgrade to passenger stations along the route, adding capacity and speeding the trip to downtown Chicago.

Meanwhile, Noland says NICTD will be going out for bids in January for a project contractor. If everything remains on schedule, Noland expects construction to start in June.

The money the South Shore received is part of a total of $544 million in federal funding allocated by the FTA for several transit infrastructure projects in Arizona, California, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina and Utah.

CHESTERTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The Parkdale Center in Chesterton has partnered with the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists to launch the “Support The Front” program. The center, which provides treatment services for substance use disorder, says the program aims to help health

care professionals dealing with grief, trauma, exhaustion and fear.

The organization says the partnership will provide free virtual support groups, including peer support and sessions with mental health clinicians, for all front-line health care workers.

“Across the nation, people are taking cover and isolating themselves, while health care professionals are put in harm’s way daily,” said Rodrigo Garcia, chief executive officer of the Parkdale Center. “They are witnessing the unimaginable. Providing care to COVID-19 patients, health care professions are seeing first-hand the uncertainty and progression of the virus. They also worry about their own health, which takes an emotional, mental and physical toll.”

The partners say the virtual support groups will be free for all health care professionals serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

You can learn more about the program by clicking here.

CHESTERTON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The South Shore commuter rail line is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing several measures, including modifications to its schedule.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District is now running a weekday schedule similar to its lighter weekend/holiday schedule, but with the addition of two rush-hour trains.

Click here to view the modified schedule.

NICTD says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a substantial reduction in the daily ridership on the SSL. Given the drop in ridership, the SSL says it believes that temporarily reducing train service is an effective way to balance service with the reduced demand occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With fewer trains, the South Shore says it allows more for personnel to conduct a deeper cleaning of the out-of-service equipment.

“We are taking additional steps to disinfect our cars and are bringing in external support to supplement the tremendous job our cleaning crews are currently doing. Together, we can further reduce the potential spread of this disease,” said Michael Noland, South Shore Line president.

The commute line is urging passengers to purchase tickets in advance through the mobile app or kiosks to reduce cash transactions between riders and train crews.

SSL says while there are fewer trains running, it will add additional cars to the in-service trains to allow for more social distancing between riders.

As far as passengers who purchase monthly tickets, NICTD says it will honor the March passes in April since riders were not able to fully utilizes the passes.

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (AP) – A state board dominated by construction industry representatives has been blocking efforts by some local governments in Indiana to require carbon monoxide detectors in residential properties.

The Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission voted unanimously last week to reject Michigan City’s carbon monoxide detector ordinance. It also postponed action on more stringent rules proposed by St. Joseph County and didn’t consider an appeal filed by Chesterton officials after the commission rejected its ordinance in October, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.

State law requires cities and counties trying to pass ordinances that differ from state building code and fire safety laws to seek permission from the 11-member commission, which is appointed by the governor.

During last week’s board meeting, the commission’s director, Douglas Boyle, deemed the Michigan City ordinance defective because of its immediate effective date and other general “language” issues. But he repeatedly declined to tell Michigan City Fire Marshal Kyle Kazmierczak what exactly would pass muster with the commission.

Kazmierczak said he’s frustrated by the panel, which he described as “inept” since it primarily is made up of building and construction industry representatives.

“Until there’s parity there these ordinances will never be enacted,” Kazmierczak said. “What they’re doing, in my opinion, is trying to draw it out as long as possible so we just go away.”

The pending proposals would require carbon monoxide detectors in new home construction, with St. Joseph County adding existing rentals, nursing homes and motels.

The city of LaPorte is the only community in the state to have local requirements approved thus far, yet had to make three attempts, according to Dot Kesling, founder of the Lindsey O’Brien Kesling Wishing Tree Foundation that advocates for awareness about dangers from the odorless gas produced by malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances.

Commission members appeared more opposed to the St. Joseph County ordinance that would require new and existing homes, as well as some 32,000 rental units, have carbon monoxide detectors, similar to the state law that mandates smoke detectors in all residential dwellings.

“There’s no way that you could police this by any means,” said board member Gregory Furnish, a homebuilder from Memphis, Indiana.

The Indiana Apartment Association, which represents apartment building owners, argued in a letter to the commission that “it is best to have statewide codes, especially when thinking that every local community could instead review and adopt their own codes which would create inconsistency throughout the state.

Association President Lynne Petersen said the group would have to consider variables, such as the required locations, number and decibels of the detectors, before deciding whether to support a statewide requirement for carbon monoxide detectors.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Mysterious holes that forced the closure of a massive dune at an Indiana national park after a 6-year-old boy fell into one and nearly died were caused by sand-covered trees that left cavities behind as they decayed over the years, researchers have found.

Fungi on the covered trees formed a sort of cement that allowed the sand to keep its hollowed out shape as the wood decayed and collapsed inward, leaving holes more than 10 feet (3 meters) deep in the dune known as Mount Baldy at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, according to a study published in December by Erin Argyilan, who heads Indiana University Northwest’s department of geosciences. She said the phenomenon likely explains similar holes found in migrating dunes in Oregon and Michigan.

Although she determined the holes to be more of a nuisance than a hazard, Argyilan said they could present an unseen geological hazard in heavily visited natural places like Mount Baldy. The popular dune has been closed except for small ranger-led tours since the July 2013 rescue of the Illinois boy, who was trapped under sand for more than three hours.

The question facing the National Park Service is whether to keep Mount Baldy closed to the unsupervised public or to find a way to safely reopen it, at least partially.

Bruce Rowe, a spokesman for the park, declined to comment on Argyilan’s study or an ongoing Indiana Geological Survey study that supports her findings. He said it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment until the agency had the chance to review both. G. William Monaghan, a senior research scientist at the IGS, said he hopes to have its completed study to the Park Service by Aug. 1.

Monaghan said the IGS study, which Argyilan is also involved in, will include a map of potentially hazardous areas based on 1930s photos that show the location of trees before the sand buried them. The scientists said reopening Mount Baldy would be a risk-management decision that the Park Service would have to make.

Kevin Kincare, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist, said he agrees with the studies’ findings.

“I was impressed with the work they did,” he said. “I agree with them that the void the child fell into was the result of a decayed tree that had been buried.”

He said the studies show it takes unique conditions to create these voids.

Mount Baldy, which is a popular attraction at the national park along the Lake Michigan coast near Indiana’s border with Michigan, formed about 4,000 years ago and moves faster than most coastal dunes. Monaghan said it has moved an average of about 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters) a year since about 1930.

Argyilan said similar holes have been reported in migrating dunes at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in Florence, Oregon, and Silver Lake State Park in Mears, Michigan, but the holes at Mount Baldy provided the first opportunity to directly study them. Ten holes had been found in the dune when her research was published. The deepest was the 10-foot (3-meter) hole that the boy fell into, but most were a yard (meter) or less deep, she said.

Monaghan said voids only create holes when the thickness of the dune from the hole to the surface is 20 feet (6 meters) or less. When it’s greater than that, the void being filled doesn’t create a big enough hole to present a danger. When the thickness is less than 5 feet (1.5 meters), the hole created is so small that it’s not a danger, he said.

Argyilan said there’s still a lot to be learned about what is happening at Mount Baldy.

“There are moving dunes all around the world. Why is this one forming holes? Why do certain ones form holes and other ones don’t? Is it all about the tree? Is it the sediment itself?” she asked. “There’s a lot that we need to know.”

PORTER COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – A motorcyclist attempting to flee police in northern Indiana died early Thursday morning.

According to Indiana State Police, a deputy with the Porter County Sheriff’s Office tried to stop the man on U.S. 20 for a traffic violation when he began to evade authorities.

The man lost control of the motorcycle on U.S. 20 when heading toward the Interstate 94 westbound ramp. The man was ejected off the motorcycle and landed on the I-94 off-ramp to U.S. 20, police said.

Police identified the motorcyclist as 48-year-old Michael Jozwiak, of Chesterton.

Police said Jozwiak was not wearing a helmet. CPR was performed until an ambulance arrived. Authorities said Jozwiak was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.

It is not known if drugs or alcohol were involved at this time.

The ramps on I-94 at U.S. 20 were closed until 2:20 a.m. Thursday.

VALAPARAISO, Ind. (AP) – A northwestern Indiana police officer who overheard a dispatch of a man claiming to have taken hostages recognized the man’s voice as that of his cousin, helping to defuse the situation that prompted a lockdown of Valparaiso University.

Court records state Porter Officer Dan Dickey recognized the voice of 20-year-old Michael Clemens of Chesterton and called Clemens’ mother, who told police her son was at the university Tuesday night tutoring computer students.

The (Munster) Times reports police questioned Clemens shortly after 10 p.m. and he admitted his involvement in the hoax.

Clemens faces felony charges of intimidation and false reporting. Online court records don’t show an attorney for him, and he could not be reached for comment because he doesn’t have a published telephone number. He’s free on bond.

VALAPARAISO, Ind. (AP) – A Valparaiso University student faces charges for allegedly calling police and falsely claiming he was armed and had taken hostages in a campus library.

Valparaiso police say 20-year-old Michael Clemens of Chesterton was arrested Tuesday night on the campus about 15 miles southeast of Gary.

Police say Clemens acknowledged calling police about 7 p.m. Tuesday and saying he had a gun and had taken hostages at a campus library.

Police evacuated the library and students were ordered to “shelter in place” during an hours-long campus alert.

Police spokesman Sgt. Mike Grennes says Clemens faces preliminary felony charges of intimidation and false reporting causing an evacuation. He was released from jail after posting bond.

A county prosecutor’s office spokesman says the office doesn’t know if Clemens has an attorney.