Urban Sprawl vs. Small-Town Character
The most notable liability for San Pierre is its long distance from goods, services, and jobs. Our surveys showed a commute time averaging 33.7 minutes each way, or 67.4 minutes round trip. For every 5 people with no commute - those who walk to work or work at home - that means five people have a commute of over an hour each way. One resident at a town meeting said he leaves at 4 am every morning to drive three hours to Chicago. Most residents of San Pierre shop in North Judson, Knox, Valparaiso, or as far away as Michigan City, over an hour to the north. The most noted needs in San Pierre are gas and groceries. One woman at a town meeting said, "I have to spend a quarter of a tank of gas just to get to the filling station and back." Most would rather shop for groceries in Valparaiso, rather than succumb to the unhealthy choices available at closer convenience stores. Even though San Pierre and Railroad Township are largely agricultural, there is no farmers' market in town to buy and sell these locally-grown healthy foods.
Another major concern for San Pierre is its proximity to the sprawling metropolitan area of Chicago, Illinois. Some maps of Chicago's metropolitan region stretch as far south as Kouts, and some even include San Pierre within their boundaries. The map below left, for example [ from www.vplants.org ], depicts an area containing all plant forms in the region that are collected and cataloged in the Field Museum of Natural History, the Morton Arboretum, and the Chicago Botanical Gardens. Other maps - of ecosystems like the Kanakee Watershed, or of real estate markets - stretch from Michigan to Illinois. Some maps actually stretch into Wisconsin. Many San Pierre residents noted in town meetings and in survey responses that they chose to live in San Pierre because of its rural character and small-town way of life. They do not want to become a suburb of Chicago, do not want large developments, and the influences of the big city to invade their town. Fortunately, most recent studies show the sprawl around Chicago growing primarily east and north, and not toward the southwest. However, the area's affordable real estate, low crime rates, and high quality of life, will continue to make northwest Indiana a desirable location for those looking for opportunities outside of the big city. In the last year alone, three 40 acre family farms in Railroad Township were listed for sale. These properties could easily become industrial plants, sprawling housing developments, or big-box retail malls, or they could remain agricultural in their use, and retain the existing character of San Pierre and the township.
Soil and Water
Above left, a home surrounded by flood waters in Winamac, Indiana. January 2008. [KSBT Channel 2, South Bend]
2008 saw widespread flooding in Northwest Indiana, reminding us of the fragility of our natural environment. Much of the land surrounding San Pierre and Railroad Township is marshy - good for certain agricultural uses and ideal for migrating sandhill cranes, but less than desirable for large-scale development. The Starke County Comprehensive Land Use Plan of 2003 identified potential flood hazard areas in the County, most notably along the Kankaee River and its tributaries to the north of San Pierre (shown in green in the map below left). The Starke County Plan also identified soil types in the County. Rairoad Township consists largely of two types of soil: Maumee-Gilford-Watseka (the light blue areas in the map below right), and Plainfield-Brems-Morocco (the dark blue areas in the map below right).
Soils in the Maumee-Gilford-Watseka association are nearly level, very poorly to somewhat poorly drained soils formed in sandy deposits on outwash plains. This soil type is used primarily for cultivated crops and its potential for this use is fair. It's major limitations for crops are ponding, wetness, droughtiness, soil blowing, and susceptibility to frost. The soil is considered poor for building sites, streets, and sanitary facilities due to wetness, ponding, poor filtering qualities, and frost action.
The Plainfield-Brems-Morocco association consists of nearly level to strongly sloping soils. These soils also developed from sandy deposits in outwash plains. Plainfield soils typically occupy higher areas of the landscape, while Morocco soils lie in lower areas. The associationŐs soils range from excessively drained (Plainfield soils) to somewhat poorly drained (Morocco). Soils in this association are generally unsuitable for cultivated crops due to their droughtiness and vulnerability to wind blown erosion. Regarding urban uses the soil type is fair for building sites, streets and sanitary facilities. The limitations for urban uses include slope, poor filtering, wetness, and frost action.
According to a preliminary geologic evaluation of mineral resources and land usability parameters prepared by the Indiana Geological Survey, the surficial geology and topography in Starke County was determined during the glacial activities of Pleistocene Age (12,000 to 15,000 years ago). The geology of most of Starke County consists of coarse-grained glacial outwash, primarily sand, with pockets of organic muck and peat underlain at depths varying from 5 to more than 50 feet by an extensive layer of glacial till. At the base of the sand in many areas is a layer of cobbles or boulders. The buried till is of loam and finer texture. The bedrock of Indiana is primarily limestone, dolostone, sandstone, and shale bedrock deposited during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. The bedrock under San Pierre and Railroad Township consists of Antrim Shale.
Water is generally at a shallow depth in Starke County, especially in low-lying areas, at less than 25 feet below the surface. This contributes to drainage problems in these areas. There is a high potential for ground water contamination in the county due to the high water table and low relief. Also, the surficial materials are relatively coarse and permeable. The floodplains are especially susceptible to contamination due to their permeability and because surface water in floodplain depressions is in direct hydraulic contact with ground water. However, a sand and gravel aquifer is located beneath a clayey subsurface till layer and is generally used for water supply. The subsurface till layer protects the water supply from fluctuations due to periods of heavy precipitation or drought and from surface contamination. Wells that are not below the subsurface till layer but instead are in the highly permeable, coarse surficial materials are much more susceptible to failure from drought conditions and to surface contamination. Due to the permeability and shallow water table in most of Starke County, the area is not considered suited for sanitary landfills. The ground water would be highly susceptible to contamination from the landfill leachate.
INDOT is planning a long-term initiative, Next Moves, which will create an underground network of utility corridors that can assist IndianaŐs economic growth. These proposed underground pipelines will run underneath existing and former railroad beds, underneath Interstate and US highways, underneath Indiana trail systems, and will carry in separate pipelines: ethanol, fresh water, waste water and storm water, slurry, animal waste, and internet communication lines. A map of underground gas and oil pipelines already in place in Indiana is shown below.
Indiana's Department of Agriculture vision statement suggests: "Double hog production by adopting breakthrough technologies in environmental and animal welfare management." Pork production in the state is increasing given this encouragement. In addition, Indiana is the fastest growing dairy producing state in the nation. In addition to adding jobs in rural Indiana and helping rural economies, there are and will continue to be environmental challenges associated with rapid livestock production expansions. With just over 6 million residents and nearly that many hogs already in Indiana, any livestock expansion must be done thoughtfully. A map of the current locations of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) is shown below.
© 2008 The Institute for Small Town Studies