Summer reading: River restoration—in part thanks to dam removal. Also, removal of “drowning machines for kids”.

In the late 1990s, restoration evolved yet again and firms like Inter-Fluve began to focus their gaze on dams. Ecologists and environmental scientists  has long bemoaned the environmental destruction wreaked by dams.  They stop flow.  They frustrate salmon. They fragment landscapes. They kill rivers.  John McPhee wrote emphatically in Encounters with the Archdruid that “there is something metaphysically sinister” about dams that in the “absolute epicenter of hell sits a dam”….

By the close of the twentieth century society was faced with painful end of life decisions for these geriatric pieces of infrastructure.  In some cases, state agencies stepped in… realizing that old abandoned dams were enormous safety hazards; locals called them drowning machines for kids…. Just as river restoration began quietly, as an almost secret passion for river eccentrics, so began the era of dam removal—slightly under the radar of national attention”

The Source—How Rivers Made America and America Remade its Rivers by Martin Doyle, 2018

Cemetery solicited “stakeholder” input– but refused to release Master Plan


I recently reviewed the materials in my Crown Hill file and noticed the small card which was passed out to the attendees of Crown Hill’s stakeholders input meeting of August 9, 2016.

Crown Hill was in the process of preparing a new Master plan for the cemetery with the assistance of consulting firm Browning Day Mullins and Dierdorf of Indianapolis.  So they sought to gather input from the so-called “stakeholders” — their neighbor institutions such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Butler University, Christian Theological Seminary, etc.  I attended as a representative of the nearby Unitarian church.  The general public was not invited to the small gathering — Crown Hill only wanted input from the select group of neighboring institutional “stakeholders” whom they carefully cultivate. 

We were warmly received and treated to a light dinner before the presentation and information gathering.

Part of that input process was a SurveyMonkey on-line survey which folks could also access later.  It was promoted by the small card. With a graphic splash, it announced: 


I can’t help but feel the perverse irony— Crown Hill touts the “oldest urban greenspace” in its call for public comments.  Yet it had just previously sold the 15-acre heart of its old-growth north woods to the National Cemetery Administration for a hardscape columbarium –even though an adjacent open-field was available.

Later, when requested, Crown Hill refused to disclose (to a requesting so-called stakeholder),  the specific comments it had received from the group.  Why would that input be kept secret?

And later still Crown Hill refused to release the completed, adopted Master Plan which supposedly was based, at least in part, on the stakeholders input. Why would that plan be kept secret?

Yes, Crown Hill is a private cemetery and is not a public agency which would make it subject to the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.  Yet it is tax-exempt (and thus it contributes zero to the Federal, state, and local tax base).  I believe that too much of what Crown Hill does is anti-public and is done on the sly.  As a result, the level of community trust is poor, despite its continuous efforts to push its brand and market its services. 

Two inspiring free speech observations

Yesterday’s post about a private commercial propaganda publication posing as public news when it grossly distorted and discredited the citizen opposition to the VA’s initial plan at Crown Hill cemetery, now prompts posting a couple favorite related excerpts about free speech:

“Where the means of communication fall within the control of a tightly centralized monopoly, free speech becomes a meaningless gesture, a useless privilege When and if the opportunity does come, one must make the most of it or betray thy neighbors and thyself.”  (Edward Abbey, Vox Clamantis in Deserto, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, 1989)

Also, this inspiring excerpt from Richard Nelson:

“Like many other of my generation (ed: a 1960s student protester), the idea of “patriotism” has not rested comfortably on my soul… at least not until recently.

I now see that our conservation work is intricately engaged with, and dependent upon, the process of democracy.  I see that every meeting. every written comment, every day in court, every letter to the editor, every newspaper article, every public testimony, every conversation with leaders and officials and neighbors, every ballot initiative, every act of advocacy and protest – every one of these things – is a manifestation of our freedom to speak, to influence decisions, to affect government policies, to educate voters, and above all to change the way our society behaves toward its environment.

With my own eyes, I can see the results of our work:  whole mountainsides, broad valleys, and sprawling islands covered with lush, living forest.  Places that would have become barren lands of stumps and slash if we had not used our voices.  And if we did not live in a nation where people speaking for the land can be heard.  Activists in many other countries have far less opportunity or no opportunity at all, to influence what happens in their environment. Because of this, I am grateful for our democratic process (despite all its imperfections) and for our freedom to speak out.”

Richard Nelson, Patriots for the American Land, 2002, The Orion Society


“Not much to report”, my ass!

Some of us might remember Burt Reynold’s blunt “$50– my ass!” rejection of a too-low offer for canoe shuttle service in the 1973 film Deliverance.  That about sums up my impression of magazine reporter Tom Healy’s assessment following the recent public meeting called by the Veterans Administration at the Indiana War Memorial.

On January 23rd, the VA’s National Cemetery Administration convened a public meeting to formally present its new proposed site, and its Draft Environmental Assessment, for its planned columbaria at Crown Hill.  It comes after nearly a year and a half of intense controversy over its initial plan to clear 15 acres of woods while an open site exists to the immediate east.

Tom Healy attended the meeting to gather material for his bi-monthly Midtown Indy magazine which is a private publication, funded apparently by advertising revenues.  Like the junk mail and political propaganda, it’s mailed to every household in the so-called midtown area of Indianapolis whether the occupants want it or not. That’s about 20,000 households and businesses.

As Healy was leaving the auditorium, I asked him if he had gathered interesting material to report following the VA’s presentation in which it discussed its new preferred site and received comments from about a dozen interested citizens.  His terse reply: “Not much to report, boring stuff, but whatever I decide to write will be well disseminated”.

I wouldn’t have expected anything better than his sarcastic “kiss-off” response.  Healy has consistently reported the Crown Hill woods preservation effort with an astonishing bias and hostility, and clearly taking the side of the vested interests including Crown Hill Cemetery and the Midtown Indianapolis, Inc. organization which supported the VA’s destructive initial plan.  I’ve been consistently  astonished by Healy’s glaring bias, hypocrisy and yellow journalism in the Crown Hill controversy, but then I remember that his Indy Midtown magazine is his private commercial publication and does not profess to be bound by any ethical standards of professional journalism.

Memo to Midtown Indy magazine–  Here’s the real story about the meeting, ripe to report:

The citizen-led Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors, with many partners and supporters, and with the help of selected elected officials, saved an urban forest from destruction despite overwhelming odds.  The VA reconsidered and did an about-face, selecting the obvious adjacent site which we had recommended from the start.  The VA’s public meeting was accordingly collegial and free from citizen upset and outrage as contrasted with the previous meeting in that same auditorium when the VA heard an earful from concerned and irate citizens.  Also, the commenting citizens offered valuable input on site design regarding hydrology, perimeter screening, and apparent excess of hardscape.  The public comment period runs to February 12th.

VA hosts public meeting to discuss new site

A week ago, the Veterans Administration hosted a public meeting to present its proposed new site for its columbaria at Crown Hill Cemetery and to discuss the findings in its Draft Environmental Assessment and its proposed Finding of No Significant Environmental Impact (FONSI).

The meeting also symbolically represented the critical importance of “heart” i.e. passion and belief, and resolve in combatting wanton destruction of our natural landscape by a public agency.  This needed and beneficial end result would not have occurred if the community had not had the heart and resolve to press their case— seemingly against all odds. Over and over, at the outset, we were told that the destruction of the woodland was a “done deal” and too much time had passed negating any hope that the destructive plan could be reversed.

About a half dozen persons—most of them actively involved in the battle to move the site to the adjacent open field – spoke to offer comments and suggestions about how to develop the site in the most sensitive way, e.g. landscape buffering, minimal hardscape, and stormwater management. More on this in a later post.

Below are my written comments to the VA.  The public comment period is open until February 12th. The VA has not yet provided a site plan, but has promised to do so as the planning proceeds.



To:  Juan Kays, Department of Veterans Affairs

From:  Clarke Kahlo, participant with the Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors (during both 2006-07 and 2016-17 battles), but commenting individually

Re:  Comments on new site selection (land swap) and Draft Environmental Assessment for VA’s cemetery expansion at Crown Hill Cemetery.

Date:  January 22, 2018

I’m very grateful to the Department of Veterans Affairs for re-examining and re-locating the site of the proposed columbaria.  I’m also appreciative of the efforts of several elected officials, and especially to Senator Joe Donnelly, for initiating a critical review.  Incoming VA Secretary David Shulkin’s willingness to re-assess the plan is also much appreciated.

Not to dwell on the regrettable past history, but, from my perspective, it needs to be said: that the community (i.e. the many protesters) was forced to expend many thousands of hours and significant financial resources, over an intense period of 8 months, to battle the initial ill-conceived plan. This level of effort, and some additional background history, warrants being put on the public record. Fortunately, common sense ultimately prevailed, and I’m both relieved and grateful. At the same time, as our dysfunctional national government currently tries to prevent another shut-down, I cannot help but wonder how many federal tax dollars were poured down the proverbial drain by the initial poor decision-making.

Regarding the Draft Environmental Assessment, to both enhance the columbaria and minimize impact, I believe the proposed facility should be well screened from view from the east and the north. This is simply good landscape design practice and would protect residential “feel” and thus sense of place and residential quality of life for the surrounding neighborhood.  It would also help to reduce street noise and create a defined sense of place on-site and thus enhance solemnity and serenity.  With the woodland to the west, there is opportunity to create a very serene setting.

Relatedly, Indianapolis has a low comparative national ranking for tree canopy, and this area of the city has experienced very significant tree losses in recent times.  Causes include the emerald ash borer infestation, extensive new building at Butler University, and the recent Army Corps’ of Engineers North White River levee tree-removal project, as well as the on-going private real estate development in Washington Township which has targeted the few remaining woodlots and potential park sites. Also, Crown Hill has been required to remove hundreds of mature ash trees due to the devastating EAB onslaught.

At page 9 of the Assessment, there is no mention of, or reference to, Crown Hill’s Keith Norwalk’s stated contention that “The neighbors wouldn’t want an eye-sore” at the proposed re-considered site.  This statement was made during a meeting between Mr. Norwalk and me on August 10, 2016 in response to my question as to why Crown Hill and the Veterans Administration had not selected the obvious open-field site (the now proposed site) instead of the heavily wooded tract which had been the subject of intense community opposition in 2006-07 when Crown Hill attempted to rezone the property for private commercial development.  I responded to his implausible claim by countering with the obvious truism that visual impact can be effectively reduced by good landscape design— e.g. adequate setbacks, earthen berms and tree plantings. He was unpersuaded.

During the ensuing 8 months of discussing this project with area neighborhood groups, I never heard any statement to the effect that “the neighbors wouldn’t want an eyesore” on that site purportedly created by a columbaria.

VA officials previously advised us that the reason for the selection of the wooded area instead of the open field was that “it was the only property offered for sale by the cemetery”.  It remains unclear to us why Crown Hill wasn’t willing to sell the open field, but it was obviously not related to any neighbors’ concerns. Perhaps it was to preserve the ability to lease the field for parking for the annual art fair at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, as it has previously done.  Or, as often suggested by others, perhaps it was motivated by a cynical attempt to eliminate the woodland and thus remove an impediment to future private development.  We may never know with certainty.

My family’s roots in Crown Hill extend back over 100 years.  Unfortunately I’ve learned that we cannot rely on the Cemetery’s current executive management or its governance for straight answers. I urge the Veterans Administration to exercise caution and circumspection in future dealings with Crown Hill.  As Crown Hill’s president has often instructed, the cemetery is an IRS-designated not-for-profit.

Yet in my opinion, and considering its close business/ownership relationship with Gibraltar Remembrance Services, LLC, like most private corporations engaged in the so-called death industry, Crown Hill is very much motivated by generating high revenues and profits and doesn’t necessarily seek to honor or sustain the public interest.

Apparently, the new site for the VA facility was included as a recommendation in the cemetery’s new Master Plan, which plan was apparently subsequently adopted by the Crow Hill board last summer or fall.

Last year, Crown Hill adopted a new Master Plan.  My several previous requests to Crown Hill for a copy of the Master Plan were ignored— even though I represented my nearby church in Crown Hill’s public plan-input meeting on August 9, 2016. (At that meeting, I questioned the preparation of a master plan AFTER Crown Hill’s decision to again decimate the north woods).  My most recent request (today) for a copy of the master plan was refused by Crown Hill’s president Keith Norwalk who wrote that the plan is “not in the public domain”.

I believe that the VA’s Amended Draft and Final Environmental Assessments should incorporate — and thus publicly disclose — the cemetery’s newly adopted Master Plan.  Since the new VA facility is proposed to be located within Crown Hill Cemetery, it seems appropriate for the VA to have reviewed the cemetery’s adopted Master Plan.  It’s hard to imagine that this has not already been a part of the VA’s review process— as due diligence and to seek to protect the public stake in the proposed facility.

Thank you for considering my comments. I trust that as the VA’s site plan takes shape, the community-at-large (and not just a few selected “stakeholders”) will be closely consulted for their input.

In memory of Barbara Lollar

Until her untimely passing on December 22nd, Barb Lollar was an esteemed member of the Indianapolis community.  She was a fellow paddler, and was at her happiest when paddling her solo canoe on Indiana’s flowing streams, according to her husband.  She was an environmental attorney (passionately representing the public interest) for several agencies, including the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers.  She enjoyed visiting our national parks with her family.  I sent the following passage to her husband and to Governor Eric Holcomb who also attended her recent memorial service.


                                         In memory of Barbara Lollar

                 An excerpt from The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams

                       (reflections from Theodore Roosevelt National Park)


“Sitting by the river – this meandering river — … I am Theodore Roosevelt watching the currents as grief gathers like a whirlpool and finally flows downriver. 

Life and death are kneaded back into the accumulated soil of the prairie.

The personal shock and assault of death that drops us to our knees in time becomes a tapping, a turning, a gesture like any other – we are not special, just part of the river, rushing by me now.

Our fear of death enslaves us to the illusion that we will live forever.  Theodore Roosevelt knew firsthand that we do not.  And so he lived large and he never forgot the source of his own healing and strength.

“There can be no greater issue than of conservation in this country“, he wrote.

He was a man of his word. During his administration, Theodore Roosevelt was responsible for protecting 150 national forests, 51 federal bird preserves, 4 federal wildlife preserves, 18 national monuments, and 5 national parks, 230 million acres in all.”

VA schedules public meeting to review environmental study for new Crown Hill cemetery site

In the “we told you so” department, yesterday I received official notice  from the Veterans Administration that it has scheduled a public meeting for January 23rd at 6:00 p.m. at the Indiana War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis.  The purpose is to present the proposed site, describe the VA’s draft Environmental Assessment and proposed FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact), and receive public comments.  The administrative record will remain open until February 12, 2018.

This is the same site which we suggested to CHC’s Keith Norwalk on August 10, 2016 as the obvious alternative to his destructive plan to eliminate 15 acres of mature woods. Well, the Crown Hill board was too resolute (i.e. willful) to consider the obvious alternative as presented by the community.  So we were forced to go to battle for 8 months before Senator Donnelly and Representative Carson persuaded Crown Hill and the VA to come to their senses and re-locate the site— to the immediate east in an open field.

The text of the VA’s email appears below.  It also contained a link for the draft Environmental Assessment report—

The VA’s notice–

“In May of 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) announced that it would pursue a land exchange of a 14.75 wooded lot VA currently owns for an adjacent parcel of comparable size owned by Crown Hill Cemetery.

The Administration completed a Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) for the proposed property acquisition for cemetery expansion and development of Crown Hill National Cemetery. NCA plans to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact following a 30-day comment period, ending on February 12, 2018.

Additionally, VA will host a public meeting January 23 at the Indiana War Memorial at 6 p.m. to present environmental findings, preliminary project plans and obtain community feedback.

For additional information on the Crown Hill Land Exchange, please view a letter from the Interim Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs published in May, 2017.”


Crown Hill woods note– Ludicrous admonition from big pusher– “Don’t push it!”

I had an encounter with one of the chief promoters of the destruction of Crown Hill’s north woods last week which is merits memorialization.

Having breakfast at a local eatery, I saw Gordon Wishard at a nearby table.  Wishard has been on the Crown Hill Board for many years.  He was one of the chief pushers of the cemetery’s ill-fated 2006-07 plan for private commercial and residential development, and I bumped into him on several occasions during that prolonged battle.  During our brief conversations at that time he was cordial but unsympathetic to the idea of forest preservation.  He recently retired as a senior partner at the big Ice Miller law firm practicing corporate law.  He’s definitely not used to hearing direct push-back from community folks or tree-huggers.  And he’s probably not accustomed to being on the losing end of things when his clients holds most of the cards economically and politically.

Last week, I greeted him in a friendly way w/ a handshake and said I wanted to thank you for relocating the site for the planned VA columbaria (to the immediate east where there would be almost no impact).  He gave me a sour look and tried to silence my comments  with a stern “Don’t push it” admonition.  I smiled and replied: “Don’t push it??  Are you kidding? We were forced to battle your ill-conceived project for eight months”.  To which he again sternly (and theatrically–in a lower voice), warned “Don’t push it”.

The unmitigated gall of some imperious Crown Hill board members!  They try to unnecessarily destroy a forest, causing the community 8 months of angst, labor, and expense. And then, when called to account in a minor way, they resort to a ridiculous, theatrical “Don’t push it”.

Would it have been so hard for him to graciously, if not begrudgingly, acknowledge the outcome with something like “I’m glad it ultimately worked out for you and Crown Hill”?  No class. And certainly no heart.

The First U.S. Rights-Of-Nature Symposium

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) sponsored a terrific conference yesterday– The First U.S. Rights-Of-Nature Symposium at Tulane Law School in New Orleans.

The video is posted on the CELDF’s website at

If rivers, forests, species, and ecosystems had enforceable legal rights, perhaps we’d be preserving, instead of systematically destroying them.

Perhaps we should apply the “Viking way” to improve judicial decisions about our air, land. and water?


Historian Neil Oliver authored an interesting 2013 book The Vikings— A New History which described a legal system in ancient Iceland controlled by a single elected “law speaker”, but also voted upon by all free men. Here’s the   pertinent excerpt:

“The Iceland Althing met for 15 days every year, at the time of the summer solstice, and one of the most important tasks was the election of the sogumadhr—the law speaker. For a society without a written language, memory was key, and the man who could recite the law acted with the authority of a judge.  A written body of laws emerged in Iceland eventually—called , inexplicably, the Gregas or Grey Goose law—but at first the whole lot of it was learned by heart and remembered by just one man at a time.

Each party to a dispute… agreed to accept whatever judgement was handed down. As well as the wisdom of the law speaker, decisions depended upon the votes of all free men. In a system that was essentially one man, one-vote, majority and consensus were all.

By the time the German historian Adam of Bremen came to write about the ways of the Icelanders in the second half of the eleventh century, he was able to say: “They have no king, only the law.”

Civilizations and legal systems have advanced since those times.  We no longer live in small groups and villages and relationships have become more complex.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to muse about what results might be  produced if judges’ decisions would be subject to popular ratification.  For instance, what if U.S District Court’s chief judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s January, 2017 ruling denying the requested injunction (seeking an order to temporarily stay the planned destruction of the mature woods at Crown Hill cemetery in Indianapolis) had been subject to popular review and vote?  Would her ruling have been sustained?  Would the people have allowed the destruction of the mature woods to needlessly proceed?  Not very likely.  Not if they were adequately educated about the issues, the facts, and the alternatives, as well as the appealing prospect of the emerging legal doctrine of the inherent rights of nature.

Perhaps we should consider amending our judicial procedures to follow the Viking system to provide for popular review, especially in cases of natural heritage and ecological protection and sustainability.