by Brittany Short
Trail users are looking forward to the Pumpkinvine’s completion. A short segment between County Roads 35 and 20 in Middlebury is the last remaining gap in this 17-mile path from Goshen to Shipshewana, Indiana. In the fall of 2020, we were confident we could finish construction by the end of this year. But since then, wetland related time-delays have added up and pushed construction out to spring of 2023.
Wetlands are highly regulated to protect water quality and to allow for the necessary drainage from surrounding highlands. The Federal Clean Water Act (section 404) requires permit approval by the Army Corps of Engineers for any construction project taking place in or around them . The above image shows the area impacted by this project, with individual wetlands indicated by dots. Permitting is subject to an official determination of wetland boundaries and inspections to determine those boundaries also must fit within the growing season (May-October).
Unfortunately, visits by our environmental consultant and Army Corps of Engineers were unable to be completed by the end of October, last year. The reason for this was two-fold. An Indiana bill signed into law on April 29, 2021 changed the way that wetland classes are defined, and set back our consultants in their work as they sought to understand the new requirements. Additionally, and in large part due to wetland boundaries being unclear, final negotiations with an adjacent landowner lingered into the fall of 2021. This left everyone uncertain of the final route until late in October, and pushed final site inspections to 2022.
This delay has not been kind to our budget. Even with a large contingency fund in place, inflation and soaring construction costs have put us in a financial deficit. A budget estimate from earlier this summer came in 31% higher than one provided just 12 months prior. Therefore we must prepare for even higher costs when construction begins next year. This means we continue our work fundraising and grant writing. We’re up for the task, but admit that these hurdles are keeping us on our toes.
The good news is this: we own all of the needed right-of-way, contacts with adjacent landowners are signed, and have submitted our permit application to the Army Corps of Engineers. We expect approvals from the Corps by year’s end. Meanwhile, engineering is gathering data from geo-technical borings and finalizing plans. We are on target to bid out the project early this winter, break ground in the spring and finish construction next summer.
The proverb “good things come to those who wait” seems an appropriate reminder here. While completion will take months longer than expected, patience and persistence by our board of directors, donors and community members is paying off. Soon, after 33 years of work, we will have a fully-connected trail; and that certainly is a “good thing”.