Tourism dust-up settles: Munster IN Times, 4/6/07

By Patrick Guinane

The Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau won't be rolling tanks into Valparaiso anytime soon.

President Speros Batistatos was at the Statehouse doing damage control Thursday, assuring legislators the tourism group has no desire to expand its land-grabbing powers beyond Lake County.

County-line tempers erupted earlier this week, with Porter County leaders charging that pending legislation would allow Batistatos' agency to exercise eminent domain powers outside Lake County.

Porter County Commissioner Bob Harper, among others, saw a below-radar attempt to invade his territory.

But Batistatos said his group made an honest error in writing legislation to tweak other portions of its governing law and that no sneak attack was in the making.

"Unfortunately, you've got a lot of people that don't have any experience in this (legislative) process overreacting," Batistatos said. "Thankfully the legislators recognize the issue, and they're working with us right now."

Porter County legislators say they believe Batistatos.

"I talked to Speros because I got a lot of e-mail about it," said state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. "I don't see anything sinister here. You know how many bills have technical errors it them?"

Even if Batistatos wanted to invade Porter County, Soliday continued, it would be a suicide mission.

"Nobody is that stupid. I mean, think of the political capital you would spend to try to do eminent domain in someone else's county," Soliday said. "I don't think it's constitutional. ... Even if you tried a stunt like that, you know you'd get sued."

Batistatos' legislation, an amendment to House Bill 1166, would have crossed out a portion of state law that says the Lake County tourism group must spend its budget "within the county." The same language was crossed out in another section dealing with eminent domain powers, though Batistatos and several legislators say that was inadvertent.

"I have no information to the contrary," said state Rep. Duane Cheney, D-Portage. He and Soliday voted for the legislation when it cleared the House 93-1 in February.

The legislation is dead in the Senate, though Batistatos hopes to find another tourism to bill to amend - minus the eminent domain drafting error. Odds are against him, ahead of a key Tuesday deadline to move legislation.

Soliday said a member of the citizens group that organized to oppose the Illiana Expressway asked him to pursue an investigation into the eminent domain mystery. Soliday says a cross-county rivalry appears culpable.

"You've got this feud going on between the two tourism bureaus," he said. "They love lobbing grenades."

Munster IN Times: http://www.thetimesonline.com