Frozen Lake Monroe means a breakthrough year for 2023 Bloomington Polar Bear Plunge

Even though daytime high temperatures have reached the 50s for the last four days, on New Year’s Day, a 3-inch layer of ice crusted over much of the water at Lake Monroe’s Paynetown Recreation Area beach.

Still, around 10 o’clock Sunday morning, The B Square counted at least 40 people who managed to make their way into the frigid shallows near the shore.

Those hardy souls will be credited with participation in this year’s edition of the Bloomington Polar Bear Plunge. Continue reading “Frozen Lake Monroe means a breakthrough year for 2023 Bloomington Polar Bear Plunge”

Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond

A week ago, up at Miller-Showers Park, a flock of Canada geese banked overhead and came in for a landing on the southernmost stormwater detention pond.

The surface was half frozen, because a couple days before the temperature had dropped to –8 F.

As elegant as geese appear in flight formation, on landing they do not make a picture of grace. They sort of wobble along the final approach, webbed feet akimbo, before mostly crashing into the water.

But they were, of course, unscathed. They started cruising around, dabbling for whatever aquatic plants were under the surface.

That’s somewhat like how local government works: It’s elegant and smooth in theory, but when it lands on some particular topic near you, it might look a little clumsy. You might get splashed.

Where will Bloomington’s area local government land in 2023? Here’s a roundup of spots that is surely not exhaustive. Continue reading “Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond”

Christmas Photos: Not a partridge, not a pear tree

On a Christmas Day visit to Lake Monroe and some Bloomington area parks, The B Square did not observe a single partridge in a pear tree. Some other lesser birds were nonetheless spotted. More photos below. Continue reading “Christmas Photos: Not a partridge, not a pear tree”

CBU director on Bloomington’s bad-tasting water: “One time is a fluke. Two times is a pattern.”

The April 2020 image of Bloomington’s water treatment plant is from the Pictometry module of the Monroe County online property lookup system.

“Water tastes fishy and like it’s straight out of a creek.” That’s from an Aug. 29, 2022 complaint logged in Bloomington’s uReport system.

The complaint is one of at least 14 such reports filed since Aug. 27.

It’s the second late summer in a row that Bloomington’s water has started tasting and smelling bad. The cause is elevated levels of blue-green algae in Lake Monroe, which is Bloomington’s drinking water source.

The current bad taste and odor is not a public health risk, according to city of Bloomington utilities.

The fact of increased blue-green algae levels is confirmed by Indiana’s department of environmental management (IDEM), which routinely samples levels in Lake Monroe. Currently the Paynetown and Fairfax state recreation area beaches are on an “advisory alert” level. That’s the second of four alert levels—low risk, advisory, caution, and closed.

The foul-tasting water was in years past a problem that recurred every year in late summer—fueled by dry, warm weather, which makes Lake Monroe ripe for increased blue-green algae concentrations. Continue reading “CBU director on Bloomington’s bad-tasting water: “One time is a fluke. Two times is a pattern.””

Funbearable cold at 2022 Lake Monroe polar plunge after warm December

On Saturday morning at Lake Monroe’s Paynetown Recreation Area, with a steady rain falling out of a sky with low-hanging clouds and fog, right when the time ticked to 10 o’clock, about 50 people sprinted from the beach into the water.

Counting down the crowd to the appointed hour was Jeanice Chastain.

The group was led into the lake by a polar bear, in the form of Troy Chastain, who has donned the costume the last half dozen years.

The Chastains are organizers of the event, which runs under the banner of the Bloomington Polar Bear Plunge. Proceeds from the event go to the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington.

The New Year’s Day tradition this year wrapped up one of the warmest Decembers in the last 120 years in the Bloomington area, based on data maintained by NOAA Regional Climate Centers.

(More photos below.) Continue reading “Funbearable cold at 2022 Lake Monroe polar plunge after warm December”

Victim now also charged in year-old July 4 Lake Monroe incident described as “attempted lynching”

A little more than a year ago, Monroe County prosecutor Erika Oliphant charged two men in connection with a July 4 incident, which then-Bloomington resident Vauhxx Booker described at the time as an “attempted lynching.”

B Square file photo of Vauhxx Booker at a news conference in People’s Park in Bloomington on July 10, 2020, a week after the incident at Lake Monroe.

Booker has now been charged as well, by a special prosecutor who was appointed to handle the cases of Booker’s alleged assailants, Sean M. Purdy and Jerry Edward Cox, II.

The special prosecutor is Sonia Leerkamp, a former prosecutor for Hamilton County.

The charges against Booker appeared on Indiana’s public court records system late Friday afternoon.

Booker is charged with two offenses: battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, which is a felony; and criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor.

Purdy and Cox were charged a year ago by Oliphant with the felonies of battery and criminal confinement or aiding in confinement. Video footage of the incident posted on Facebook and other social media shows Purdy holding Booker down against a tree.

The Monroe County branch of the NAACP released a statement Friday evening reacting to the charges.

The NAACP statement concludes: “The Monroe County Branch of the NAACP condemns the prosecution of Vauhxx Booker, demands that the charges against him be dropped immediately, and calls on special prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp to resign.”
Continue reading “Victim now also charged in year-old July 4 Lake Monroe incident described as “attempted lynching””

Bloomington climate trends could mean wetter summers, higher lake levels

Three decades from now, Indiana is forecast to see between 6 and 8 percent more rainfall than it averaged in the past, depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions during the lead-up to mid-century.

That’s according to a 2018 report from the Purdue Climate Change Research Center.

According to the report, in southern Indiana, the increased precipitation is predicted to come more in the winter and spring months.

But based on records of precipitation and the water levels at Lake Monroe in the past two and a half decades, southern Indiana looks like it could be seeing more rain in the first half of summer.

Earlier this week, the Indianapolis office of the National Weather Service tweeted out a link to a report on the anomaly of this summer’s first half: It has been way wetter than normal.

The abnormal amount of region-wide rainfall has caused high water on Lake Monroe. Last week Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources closed the swim beaches at the lake’s Fairfax SRA and Paynetown SRA and they’ve stayed closed.

Rainfall and lake levels are related, of course. And over the last quarter century, both seem to be showing an upward trend for this time of year. Continue reading “Bloomington climate trends could mean wetter summers, higher lake levels”

Lawsuits over developer’s Lake Monroe excavations to end; settlement gets compliance for Monroe County, $50K for developer

On Wednesday afternoon, at a joint session of Monroe County’s board of commissioners and the county plan commission, both bodies voted separately to agree to a settlement of a lawsuit against William and Nicole Huff and the Huffs’ counterclaim against the county.

The county’s lawsuit was filed in May of 2019.

The Huffs will get a payment of $50,000 to settle their defamation and due process claims against the county. That cost will be split evenly by the county and the county’s insurance provider, OneBeacon Insurance Group.

The county will get quick access to the site on Lake Monroe, where the Huffs have been excavating and removing trees for a couple of years, to check the current status of erosion control on the property related to their development activity. The assessment will be done by an engineer of the Huffs’ choosing and the county’s municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) coordinator.

If problems are found related to erosion, a remedy will be implemented by the Huffs. If no problems are found, that’s the end of the story, at least as it relates to events of the past. For future permitting related to development at the site, the Huffs are supposed to be treated like any other petitioner, according to county attorney David Schilling.

According to the settlement agreement, once any erosion problems are identified, and remedied if they’re found, the county is required to issue a press release that states: “The County has reached an agreement with the Huffs to resolve the lawsuit. The County has determined that the site is in compliance with all County erosion control requirements and does not pose a threat to the Monroe County water supply.”

The vote on the three-member board of commissioners to accept the settlement was 3–0. On the plan commission the tally was 7–1, with dissent from Trohn Enright-Randolph, who serves as county surveyor, which is a countywide elected position. Continue reading “Lawsuits over developer’s Lake Monroe excavations to end; settlement gets compliance for Monroe County, $50K for developer”

No word from prosecutor: July 4 Lake Monroe incident involving Bloomington activist gets tried in court of public opinion

As of early Tuesday morning, there was still no word from the Monroe County prosecutor’s office on possible charges arising from an incident that took place at Lake Monroe on July 4.

cropped 2020-07-14 microphones mic press conference

In a Facebook post the following day, local activist and Monroe County human rights commissioner, Vauhxx Booker, described himself as “almost the victim of an attempted lynching.”

Since then, demonstrations with a few hundred people have been held on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington and Booker has given a few press conferences. At one of the press events he and his legal counsel called for a federal grand jury to be convened.

On Monday, David Hennessy, an attorney who represents Sean Purdy and Caroline McCord, two of the people who were involved in the incident, and whom Booker is accusing, gave a press conference.

Hennessy argued a case for his clients, saying that Booker was “the instigator and the agitator” in the incident. Continue reading “No word from prosecutor: July 4 Lake Monroe incident involving Bloomington activist gets tried in court of public opinion”

Monroe County prosecutor on assault of Vauhxx Booker: DNR investigation of July 4 case is not yet complete

On Saturday, July 4, at Lake Monroe, Bloomington resident Vauhxx Booker was assaulted by a group of white men in a case Booker has described as an “attempted lynching.”

In a press release issued a little before 5 p.m. on Thursday, the Monroe County prosecutor’s office gave a status update: No charges have been filed because the investigation is not yet complete.

cropped Vauhxx Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 10.06.41 AM
Facebook videos of an incident described by the man being held down in the left frame as an “attempted lynching.” Image links to Facebook post.

The press release, which came from prosector Erika Oliphant, indicates that no charges have yet been filed, because the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division (IDNR Law Enforcement), has not completed its investigation and turned over all its evidence to the prosecutor.

The statement says, “At this time, the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office cannot speculate as to charges. IDNR Law Enforcement will forward their investigative report to the Prosecutor’s Office immediately upon completion, at which time it will be expeditiously reviewed.”

About the investigation, the press release says, “Since the initial response, IDNR Law Enforcement has been working diligently to complete the investigation.” Continue reading “Monroe County prosecutor on assault of Vauhxx Booker: DNR investigation of July 4 case is not yet complete”