ERC Partnership Facilitates Experiential Study of Environmental Sociology in Blackford County

The ERC is assisting professor Sherrie Steiner and her

Dr. Sherrie Steiner, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at IPFW
Dr. Sherrie Steiner, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at IPFW

Environmental Sociology students to produce maps of industrial sites and environmental hazards in Blackford County, 50 miles south of Fort Wayne. According to the 2013 County Health Rankings, Blackford County ranks 89 out of 92 for Health Outcomes.  In particular, residents suffer from elevated rates of certain cancers and neurologic diseases.  Residents formed Blackford County Concerned Citizens in 1999 over concerns about the county’s rates of cancer and neurological illnesses with a desire to improve the quality of life through citizen action to investigate the diseases that are prevalent and by advocating to have these diseases investigated.  They recently partnered with Hoosier Environmental Council to assess the environmental health risks in the area.

There is a substantial industrial history in Blackford County beginning with the 1880s oil and gas boom.  This has raised questions of whether there might be links between health and environmental conditions.  With the assistance of the ERC, Steiner’s environmental sociology students will begin the process of mapping the industrial legacy of Blackford County.  Using ArcGIS software, students will create a series of maps that depict the location of various industries over time, their industrial legacy, and the current buildings on those industrial sites.

“The mapping expertise that the university brings to this project are a tremendous benefit for the community,” said Dr. Indra Frank, the Hoosier Environmental Council’s environmental health project director.  “This will help us have a clearer picture of possible environmental hazards.”

“This project has been collaboratively designed and implemented with our community partners,” said Sherrie Steiner, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology at IPFW.  “I am hoping that this experience will strengthen a sense of civic responsibility and personal efficacy within students and among members of the community as pertains to environmental engagement.”

Steiner’s unique class is made possible through the collaborative community efforts of Blackford County Concerned Citizens, Blackford County Historical Society, and Hoosier Environmental Council.  This service learning course is made possible by the generous support from Indiana Campus Compact with matching funds from the IPFW Sociology Department.  Opinions or points of view expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official position of Indiana Campus Compact.

Blackford County Historical Society, where students are researching local industrial history. Source: Sherrie Steiner.








ACRES Land Trust: Protecting Land for the Long Haul

Fort Wayne native and professional photographer Robert Pence donated $1 million to ACRES Land Trust when he passed away in 2012. The trust, which protects natural habitat throughout the region, now has an endowment of over $3 million.

Pence requested the sum be unrestricted- meaning ACRES can use it however they like. The organization has decided to use the money for their goal of long-term land protection. According to one ACRES representative, Lettie Haver, “when we protect land, we’re doing it forever”.

Check out the full story.

For more info on ACRES Land Trust, click here.


Riverfront Development Receives Financial Contribution

The Fort Wayne riverfront development project recently received a boost in funding. The Foellinger Foundation offered $225,000 towards riverfront project undertakings. The grant is part of a larger plan, in which the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment will provide matching funds of 50 cents per dollar if outside donors collectively raise $2 million.

Read more about the funding process, including how you can provide support here.


Who Owns the Rivers?

When it comes to rivers, questions often arise about who owns them? A simple but somewhat confusing answer to this is “everybody” and “nobody.” The “everybody” means that the rivers are part of the water of the United States – often referred to as WOTUS. This means that the rivers are held in common trust like our state and national forests and parks.  These trusts are to preserve the resource as a common good.

The reference to “nobody” would be that no interest, singular or joint, may use the river entirely for their gain. This is what is typically referred to as a “special interest.” Referencing the common good statement, it means the resource should remain largely intact for the benefit for all outside of the special interest. The “trust” of the rivers are secured under the supervision of the US Army Corps of Engineers for physical capacity and integrity and the US EPA for the water quality aspects. It is the jurisdiction of the state to manage the waters flowing through their boundaries, and generally covered by agencies such as Environmental Management (IDEM) and Natural Resources (IDNR). There are some exceptions.

So if “everybody” and “nobody” owns the rivers, who owns the riverbanks?  This is a much trickier question as it has to do with the physical attributes of a given stretch of river.  Up to “bankfull” (high water mark, but in its banks) it is assumed to be part of the common trust.  It falls to the jurisdiction of the state for managing the flow of the river.  This being said, most all property lines run to the river’s edge. Consequently, most property owners assume they own all the way to the current level of the river, if not out to the middle!

Matt JonesIf, as a river user, you find yourself entering that discussion and do not seem to get your easement access acknowledged, consider being the better person and back off – you aren’t going to solve anything standing on the sand bar when tempers flare!

U.S. Senators Speak on St. Joseph River Conservation Project

Bringing you updates on a story we published last month, U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan, along with Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, held a press conference last week to discuss details of the 13.6 million dollar investment to improve water quality in the St. Joseph River. The project, which combines a historic 6.8 million dollar public investment that will be matched by a private investment contribution, is one the largest commitments to water quality and conservation ever made in the Great Lakes. You can read the press release and watch a news report here:      


conservation through research and education


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