Indiana Dunes
Administrative History
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If they don't let us have the park I will fight them to the death on the harbor appropriation.

Senator Paul H. Douglas, quoted by the New York Times, March 11, 1962. [1]

Three Years of Struggle, 1960—1962

A key element in the port versus park battle involved a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report commissioned in 1960 to study Indiana's proposed deep—water port at Burns Ditch. The artificial channel, built by a contractor named Burns who was commissioned in 1926, drained the marshlands of the upper valley of the Little Calumet River for development as well as reduced the threat of flooding. For three decades, although not supporting the appropriation of public funds, a series of Corps studies evaluated the Burns Ditch site.

Realizing what the outcome of the 1960 report would likely be, the National Park Service presented its position on the proposed harbor to the Corps in January 1960. The proposed park included the few remnants of untouched beaches, dunes, and marshes in the region with exceptional natural scenic values with great accessibility to a metropolitan population in excess of six million people. Therefore, by leveling a mile of tree—covered dunes and "the finest sand beach on the Great Lakes," only four miles of lakeshore would remain. After the port was built, further industrial development and its resulting pollutants would ensue to make beach activities unsafe along the entire lakeshore, including the popular Dunes State Park. [2]

To no one's surprise, the October 1960 Corps report concluded that the mouth of Burns Ditch was the ideal location for the Indiana port and recommended that Congress appropriate the funds. The report called for dredging the lake approach channel to a depth of thirty feet and the outer harbor to twenty—seven feet. With breakwaters and shoreline facilities, the total cost came to $34,500,000. [3] The Corps set the benefit—cost ratio at 5.66 to 1.

When the report arrived for approval at the Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors in Washington, D.C., Senator Douglas was ready. He asked why no other alternate sites were evaluated and why the public interest in parkland was not addressed. Until these questions were addressed, Douglas successfully urged the Board to return the report to the Chicago office.

Douglas' move deeply angered Indiana politicians who had boasted that the report's approval would be routine. An aide to Governor—Elect Matthew E. Welsh urged Welsh to "get to the bottom of it." He warned:

It appears to me that the entire project is in jeopardy and the situation is serious. Normally, the Corps of Engineers is considered immune to political pressures but in this instance it would appear from the known facts that Senator Douglas was able to exert considerable influence in securing this latest action by the Corps. [4]

An important ally of Douglas was Save the Dunes Council member Herbert Read, son of artist and Council publicity director Philo B. Read. Read, a dunes advocate who worked for a Chicago architectural firm, became chairman of the Council's Engineering Committee after educating himself on harbors through reading a borrowed technical manual. The self—taught "harbor expert" was able to decipher the Corps of Engineers' formula for calculating benefit—cost ratios. The Engineering Committee demonstrated the Council's resolve to take the offensive. Ogden Dunes resident George Anderson, a railroad research engineer, assisted Read in identifying various harbor alternatives and technical report errors. Chaneling the information to Senator Paul Douglas, the result saw the Corps agree to a series of restudies. [5]

Interestingly enough, pre—1949 Corps of Engineers' evaluations recommended against a Federally—funded Indiana harbor. As early as 1930, the Corps reported:

The harbor, if constructed, will be entirely surrounded by the plant of the Midwest Steel Corporation, which would make its use by the general public impracticable. The District Engineer recommends that no work be done by the United States at that harbor until it can be shown conclusively that it is of direct benefit to the general public. [6]

Political agitation from Indiana forced another report in 1935 which garnered the same result. The district engineer found the commerce projections "highly speculative" and that the "existing facilities are adequate to supply demand for some years to come." [7] Yet another restudy in 1937 resulted in a report issued in 1943 with an identical conclusion. The Corps recommended that "selection of the site for such an improvement should be based on a comprehensive review of the whole available frontage rather than the consideration of the site of Burns Ditch alone." The report concluded, however, that an evaluation of Indiana's shoreline was unmerited because there was no proof that a deepwater port was needed. [8]

In 1960, for the third consecutive year, the Secretary's Advisory Board recommended Indiana Dunes as a new unit of the National Park System. Life magazine sympathetically displayed a photographic essay in the context of nature against industry. Revealing the destruction of Midwest Steel and NIPSCO bulldozers, one caption warned, "Over the dunes hangs the smoky specter of steel." [9]

Nineteen sixty—one, the first year of President John F. Kennedy's administration and the Eighty—seventh Congress, was the first year in which more than one Indiana Dunes bill was introduced. In the first sign of compromise, Indiana Senator Vance Hartke introduced S. 2317 which provided for both port and park. Paul Douglas submitted S. 1797 which provided for an "Indiana Dunes National Scientific Landmark" of 5,000 acres which he subsequently amended to 9,000 acres. In the House, H.R. 6544 provided for an Indiana Dunes National Monument. Park Service comments, however, favored adopting the language of S. 1797 because the Secretary could lease the lands to the State of Indiana to preserve and manage. The National Scientific Landmark could be administered in conjunction with the Dunes State Park. The bill was designed to allay Indiana's concerns about Federal appropriation of the land. Protection of the leased land could be assured by careful monitoring of State management and protection. [10]

Douglas coaxed Alan Bible, Chairman of the Parks Subcommittee of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, to accompany him and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall to the dunes to see the proposed park firsthand. On July 23, 1961, Douglas, Bible, and Udall arrived before the Bethlehem Steel property accompanied by an impressive entourage: Director Conrad Wirth; Chicago Mayor Richard Daley; the mayors of Gary, East Chicago, Hammond, and Whiting; and Dorothy Buell. After enjoying a day of hiking and interpretive talks sponsored by the Save the Dunes Council, the participants were converted to the park cause. [11]

In a widely publicized interview, Secretary Udall affirmed his desire to preserve the dunes as a national park and urged prompt Congressional action: "It is my hope that we might preserve as large an area of national significance, not only to serve Chicago or Indiana, but to serve the whole country and future generations as well." To Paul Douglas, Udall asserted, "We ought to make a last ditch fight to save the dunes as a national park. Our great National Park System has no major unit in the midwestern heartland; your people need something above all. I hope that we can take a walk through the dunes again soon, and that it then will be a great national park." [12]

A Congressional authorization in the summer of 1961 for Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts (44,600 acres with forty miles of seashore), provided added support to the dunes park fight. Not since Cape Hatteras in 1937 had a seashore entered the National Park System. More importantly, Cape Cod represented a radical change in the Federal Government's land acquisition policy. For the first time Congress approved significant park enabling legislation which included the right to use Federal money to purchase natural park land. The old "beg, borrow, or steal system"—where new park land had to be either already Federally—owned or donated to the government—was gone forever. [13]

Before the Senate hearings on S. 1797 began in February 1962, the newly—established Indiana Port Commission (IPC) issued a critical statement on the bill charging Douglas with trying to kill all port planning and sabotage Indiana's economic development. In effect, the IPC declared, the Federal park would encompass and strangle the state's own popular park. The IPC further accused Douglas and his park proponents of spreading malicious propaganda, a "vicious campaign" of heralding a "tourist mecca" to prevent the public port under the "guise of conservation." Down—playing the tourist potential of the Federal park, IPC cited Secretary Udall's own words: "There will be very little public recreational development. It will, rather, be a preservation of the natural state of the dunes land area. The National Park System is not in the bathing beach business." [14]

The IPC as well as other park opponents painted a sinister picture of the dune savers' coalition and refused to recognize it for what it was. Rather, they saw the national park movement as a smoke screen; the real objective of Douglas and his cohorts in opposing Porter County's harbor could only be to protect Chicago's port traffic. When IPC met with the Chicago port authorities and discovered no insurmountable problems, it naively believed the save the dunes movement would dissolve. When it did not, IPC and other port proponents believed the Lake County steel companies were the real powers behind the conservation effort. To confirm this position, they pointed at Herbert Read's active promotion of the "Tri—City Harbor" proposal in Lake County which had the support of the mayors of Hammond, Whiting, and East Chicago. It promised to become the "Quad—City Harbor" with the endorsement of Gary's mayor who advocated the extension of the breakwater to serve his city. When Lake County state legislators succeeded in Indianapolis in defeating an appropriation for the Porter County harbor, park opponents were doubly convinced Herbert Read was on U.S. Steel's payroll.

Gradually, port proponents used incentives to "neutralize" the Quad—City Harbor boosters. Establishment of a Lake County crime commission purged others, including the mayor of Gary. With the Lake County alternative fading, Herbert Read and George Anderson focused on a proposal to limit facilities to the east arm of Burns Ditch, thereby preserving the dunes along the lakeshore. [15]

The February 1962 hearings evolved into a heated debate on the proposed Burns Ditch port. Proponents cited the revised January 1962 Corps of Engineers report which recommended Burns Harbor. Opponents featured a recommendation of President Kennedy's Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission calling for the preservation of shoreline areas near urban centers. The Department and Service's report was again pro—park, calling for the maximum acreage possible and asking for a National Lakeshore or National Seashore designation. The cost estimate for the roughly 9,000 acres was $8 million. [16]

In early March, President John F. Kennedy took a stand on Indiana Dunes in an important New Frontier speech on conservation. Kennedy outlined a program to link the nation's economic vitality to a movement for conservation of the natural environment. He recommended the establishment of additional national parks, monuments, and seashores and called for the authorization of park units at "Point Reyes (California), Great Basin (Nevada), Sleeping Bear Dunes (Michigan), Ozark Rivers (Missouri), Prairie Lands (Kansas), Lakeshore Dunes (Indiana), and Sagamore Hill (New York)." In a speech before the National Wildlife Federation, Secretary Udall hailed the president's message as "but one highlight of the greatest decades in the conservation history of the United States." [17]

On March 23, 1962, the Corps of Engineers approved the report endorsing Burns Ditch Harbor. The State of Indiana immediately concurred and anxiously awaited the expected approval from the Bureau of the Budget.

On the heels of President Kennedy's speech, however, Senator Douglas did not believe Kennedy's subordinates would approve the harbor before Congress decided on the park. While Douglas openly criticized the flaws in the Corps' report, Governor Matthew Welsh's administrative aide, Clinton Green, who was also the Secretary—Treasurer of the Indiana Port Commission, went to Washington, D.C., for one week to lobby for the harbor. In a discussion Green arranged between his boss and Secretary of the Interior Udall, Udall accepted the idea of a harbor in the proposed park area. [18]

While the park appeared for the first time on the administration's priority list, the port also enjoyed White House support. Indiana had a Democrat in the governor's mansion pledged to securing a public port, and the minority leader in the House of Representatives, Charles A. Halleck (Republican—Indiana), had most of the lakeshore area in his district and had launched his political career decades previously based on securing a public harbor for Indiana. Like most Hoosier politicians, Halleck was a self—declared enemy of the proposed park. On March 30, the Indiana Port Commission gleefully declared that Bethlehem Steel contracted for the removal of more than two million cubic yards of sand for use in a landfill at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The activity marked the first step in Bethlehem Steel's plans to break into the Chicago steel market by building a new $250 million facility, a move officially unveiled on December 2, 1962. [19]

Fearing that the industrial—political coalition might succeed in decimating the Central Dunes, Senator Douglas vowed to oppose appropriations for Burns Harbor until the park became a reality. [20] At this point, Douglas knew the Kennedy White House wanted the port more than the park. He observed that the President's advisors exhibited typical Eastern arrogance in that they considered nothing in the Midwest worthy of preservation.

Douglas' suspicions proved correct when he learned in early October 1962 that President John F. Kennedy had approved the Bureau of the Budget's inclusion of Burns Harbor in the 1962 Public Works Bill. Paul Douglas immediately went to the White House to speak to President Kennedy. He shared with the President his well—worn photographs of the dunes, comparing the area's beauty and uniqueness to that of Kennedy's own beloved Cape Cod National Seashore. Douglas seized the opportunity to raise doubts about the validity of the fluctuating cost—benefit projections contained in the Corps of Engineers report, which had been revised from 5.66 to 1 in 1960 to 1.47 to 1 in 1962.* He argued that the issue transcended politics. The dunes had to be preserved at all costs.

*The errors were uncovered by Herbert Read and George Anderson of the Save the Dunes Council's Engineering Committee. When first informed of the Corps report which initially caused President Kennedy to sanction the Burns Ditch Harbor project, Read knew the report contained errors without even having read it. This perception was based on prior experience with Corps reports. When called to the capital the following day, Read and Anderson took the evening train and dissected the report, making copious notes. Before a meeting in Douglas' office where White House and Bureau of the Budget representatives, Corps of Engineers generals, the Secretary of the Army, and members of the Indiana Congressional Delegation were present, the two private citizens recounted a list of errors, including double—counting benefits. See Herbert Read, Engineering Chairman, Save the Dunes Council, Inc., interview transcript, 22 September 1987, Bailly Ranger Station, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Porter, Indiana.

The meeting with Kennedy resulted in the President rescinding his approval of the port project. Additionally, he instructed the Bureau of the Budget to re-evaluate the economic potential of the harbor as well as to seek an avenue of compromise to establish both a port and a park. [21] On October 3, 1962, an emergency meeting took place in Senator Douglas' office with Bureau of the Budget (BOB) and Corps of Engineers officials listening to a recitation of errors contained in the Corps' Burns Harbor report. Such in—depth analysis to dispute the Corps' findings was a shockingly unprecedented act. The result saw BOB reject the port proposal. [22] The elimination of the port from the administration's agenda outraged port proponents who universally denounced Douglas' interference. New battle lines were drawn in early 1963 as the highly charged port versus park struggle entered a new stage.

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Last Updated: 07-Oct-2003