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Four-year battle over Avon lake continues

Four-year battle over Avon lake continues

IDNR declares private lake in Avon a high-water hazard

Several people reside on Lake Forest Lake. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has declared the lake’s 75-year-old privately owned dam a “high hazard.” Photo by Becky Schroer

 By Becky Schroer

After four years, a battle between an Avon-area neighborhood lake owner and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) continues.

In 2013, the IDNR declared the 75-yearold Lake Forest Dam a “high hazard” and claimed jurisdiction. After four years and several legal steps, a Marion County Superior Court denied in early May another appeal by Forest Lake and dam owner Paul R. Walthers. The court remanded the issue back to the IDNR and its administrative law judge.

According to Walthers, over the years, several developments near the lake have been approved by Hendricks County. These developments, while meeting requirements individually, have cumulatively impacted Forest Lake and Lake Forest Dam, located in Washington Township southwest of the US 36 and Avon Avenue intersection.

Walthers, 85, has owned and maintained the lake and dam for 50 years. He previously owned the land surrounding the lake, and owned homes on the lake. Today, 14 homes surround the lake and are in jeopardy of losing their lake-front status.

The IDNR citation was originally issued to three dam owners and lakefront residents, Walthers as well as Ronald D. and Carolyn A. Richards.

According to Richards, he and his wife own part of the dam, with Walthers owning the other section as well as a lake spillway. The Richards bought the land and dam section from Walthers in 1979.

The Richards have since agreed to a monetary settlement with the IDNR. “The situation we found ourselves in, we thought it best to settle. No one wants to see the lake go away,” Ronald Richards said. With the financial settlement with the IDNR, Richards said he has “absolved his responsibility with the dam.”

Both the Richards and the INDR were not able to reveal the settlement amount, nor was the IDNR able to divulge the use of the funds. “I am not a liberty to discuss details of that (Lake Forest Dam) situation because it is currently in litigation,” said Phil Bloom, director of communications with the IDNR, about the continuing conflict with Walthers.

But Walthers, who no longer lives on the lake, has no plans to stop fighting to save it.

“I can’t afford to do what they demand — none of which I caused. I am really fighting for the good of the lake dwellers. I don’t want to have legal problems because of a decrease in property values,” Walthers explained. “I am trying to help the community. Why is the state making such an issue?” he added.

While the IDNR has declared the dam a “high hazard,” it is requiring Walthers to “obtain the services of a professional registered engineer experienced in dam design, construction, repair and maintenance to evaluate the dam and spillway…” at his cost.

“State laws concerning dams have changed four times in the last decade. They now have control to make me prove the dam is safe or dewater it,” Walthers said. “We have talked to several engineers, and no one thinks there is a problem except the IDNR,” he added, estimating the cost to rebuild the dam would be in the neighborhood of $500,000. Another alternative is to drain the lake completely.

“How do you prove a 75-year-old oak tree is safe and won’t fall on someone’s house,” Walthers used as an analogy to the situation with his dam.

He estimates he already spends $2000 to $3000 annually to maintain the lake. He added that water from the lake’s dam and spillway meet and flow to a ditch that carries the water to White River, and it has never overflowed.

According to Walthers, the lake has experienced “hazard creep” over the past 40 years. This he attributes this to the cumulative development approved by Hendricks County.

Walthers says the recent growth within the Town of Avon, newer nearby schools and housing subdivisions, the CXS railroad, widening of roads and the new bridge construction on Avon Avenue are increasing rain and storm water, impacting his lake – and thus, IDNR involvement.

Walthers said he has met with county officials. Additionally, he said he has proposed less costly solutions to the IDNR which have been rejected.

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