Lake Freeman worries dominate talk at Rokita town hall

LAKE FREEMAN, Ind. (WLFI) – The water level on Lake Freeman was the dominant topic Thursday afternoon in a town hall meeting hosted by Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita. While many were happy to hear there may be a long-term solution in sight, it doesn’t lessen their daily worries.

The pounding waters below the Oakdale Dam Thursday evening appeared to be good for fishing and for the six types of protected mussels on the Tippecanoe River. But they aren’t good for those who have property or a business on the other side on Lake Freeman.

Judging by the large show of hands, the topic was the only reason for most of the roughly 200 in attendance at the town hall meeting.

“I think he’s well aware that a lot of people are involved on this and it’s a hot button issue, there’s no doubt about it,” said Lake Freeman resident Grant Martin.

A recently issued technical assistance letter by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could provide a long-term solution. If implemented, it would allow the Oakdale Dam to cut its mandated water flow of 500 cubic feet per second as long as water levels are lower upstream.

“The idea will be at the Oakdale Dam, we wouldn’t have to let out as much water, so that it will better mimic what nature intended anyway,” said Rokita.

With residents worried about the economic impact in terms of the effect on businesses and dropping property values, part of the discussion centered on whether they would support a repeal of the federal Endangered Species Act.

“I’m not sure about that. But as a people, we have to make a decision on whether the mussels are more important than people living upstream,” said Lake Freeman resident Larry Clugh.

The letter cannot be implemented without the support of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Rokita could provide no possible timeline for that next step.

“No one can say, no one can say. That’s the answer. Yes, pray for rain. That would be helpful,” Rokita said.

But for those like Rex Millhouse — the Jefferson Township Trustee in Carroll County, who can look out their window and see the water level two feet below normal — they are focused on the immediate.

“In the long term, what [Rokita] said may work out. But we need a short-term solution. That’s the critical thing right now,” said Millhouse.

Rokita also said he’s told NIPSCO and the government that they need to do a better job of informing residents before the water levels drop. He believes the technical assistance letter will smooth out the fluctuations of water flow.

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