Residents in a housing addition near Peru are calling foul on two Miami County commissioners who voted to close the roads running over five deteriorating dams, with no reopen date set. Residents say the move will jeopardize public safety and was done to spite homeowners.
Miami County Commissioners Alan Hunt and Fred Musseleman last week voted to close the five roads on Friday in the Hidden Hills subdivision. Commissioner Larry West, who lives in the subdivision, abstained from the vote.
The decision came after a judge in August ruled the county is on the hook to repair six deteriorating dams since county roads run on top of the structures. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources in 2014 determined the dams had structural deficiencies and had not been properly maintained.
Hunt said Thursday now that a judge has determined the county is responsible for the dams, he decided to vote to close the roads over them in “the interest of public safety.”
“If they failed for any reason, it would be a danger to the public,” he said.
But West said the decision was “crazy” and Hunt and Musselman were being “spiteful” by closing the roadways, since the DNR and three engineering firms which inspected the dams never recommended closing the roads on top of them.
“If you would visit the area you would see that the dam roads present no safety issues in the short term,” West said in an email to the commissioners and other public officials. “By closing the roads you have likely created a more hazardous situation than the dams present.
“If the DNR felt the roads should be closed, they surely would have suggested it,” he said. “If any one of the three engineering firms felt the roads should be closed don’t you think they would have suggested that?”
Hunt responded to West’s charge that he closed the roads out of spite by saying, “He could be correct in that a little.”
Hunt went on to say he believes all the money the county and the homeowners spent over the last 5 years litigating the DNR’s decision on the dams could have been spent on just repairing the structures.
“If all that money had been spent to do corrective action instead of paying attorneys, we could have been a lot closer to resolving the issue,” he said.
Homeowners in the subdivision were incensed when they learned the roads over the dams would close, causing dead ends throughout the subdivision.
Ken Janowksi, who lives on Lakeview Drive, said the decision was done in spite and ripped commissioners for closing the roads without any warning to residents.
“It’s like arguing with little kids,” he said. “They’re our representatives and are supposed to be supporting us here in the subdivision.”
He also worried the closures would cause a serious public-safety risk since it would make it difficult for ambulances, fire trucks or other emergency vehicles to figure out how to get to the houses in the subdivision.
School buses, mail carriers and other vehicles will also now have to turn around at the dead ends since they can no longer drive across the dams.
And the roads may be closed for over a year.
The county has appealed the judge’s ruling that it is on the hook for repairing the dams. Hunt said the roadways over the dams will remain blocked until a final decision is made on that appeal, which could potentially put some of the burden on repairing the structures back on the homeowners.
Hunt said if the county is ultimately required to fix and maintain the dams, the county will find the cheapest solution. That includes adding culverts under the road to lower the water levels of the lakes in the subdivision, which he said would then remove the dams from the jurisdiction of the DNR.
But for Janowksi, the decision by Hunt and Musselman stings. He said after 5 years of litigation, homeowners had thought the situation had finally been resolved before commissioners voted “in spite” to close the roads.
“I think it’s just dirty,” he said. “(The commissioners) are mad at the DNR, and they’re throwing that anger at us residents.”
West said he hopes his fellow commissioners reconsider their decision and reopen the roads.
“Please reconsider the decision that was made in haste without thinking through the facts,” he told them in the email. “ … We should not compound the problem by adding unnecessary hazards with your decision to close the roads.”