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Porter County residents urge leaders to address environmental issues, homelessness with COVID money

Porter County residents are calling on leaders to reevaluate their plans for federal COVID money. The county government is getting more than $33 million from the American Rescue Plan. Some local advocates see it as a chance to address the structural challenges facing the community.

Elizabeth Gingerich is a professor of international trade at Valparaiso University. She told the county commissioners Tuesday that time is running out to address climate change.

"Why can't we electrify and put in charging stations throughout the town? Why can't we put solar on the county government buildings? Let's use this money to put Porter County on the map for all the right reasons," Gingerich said.

The county's initial plan includes $5.5 million to upgrade the Memorial Opera House, based on the idea that the tourism and hospitality industry was negatively impacted by the pandemic. But Valparaiso resident Sheila Sweeny feels that money could be better used addressing issues like homelessness and domestic violence.

"5.5 million for an opera house seems excessive to me, when we have so much suffering that's ongoing," she told the commissioners.

Sweeny said a petition asking the county council to reject the plan has collected more than 130 signatures.

Michael Gallenberger is a news reporter and producer that hosts All Things Considered on 89.1 FM | Lakeshore Public Media.