If the treatment afforded Pauline Oxby is any indication, Indiana's 20-year I-69 epoch has only gotten uglier under Gov. Mitch Daniels. The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) took her property through eminent domain and dropped I-69 on her front doorstep.
Oxby, an 83-year-old rural Oakland City woman, said she fought INDOT for economic justice as far as she could. Her son handled the negotiations, the 20-year widow said, and she doesn't recall exactly why the state said it wouldn't buy her house.
"I don't remember anymore," she said in late March, a couple weeks after INDOT contractors took down the row of trees that fronted her property, some since before she and her husband bought it in 1953.
But Oxby's memory doesn't fail on the gist of what INDOT said: "They just said, 'No, we're going to take your yard.'"
I-69 Destruction Begins Photo Album
Almost 18 years to the day since the latest in a long line of objective studies concluded that a Southwest Indiana Highway could not be justified on economic grounds, INDOT tore down the first homes in Gibson County to make way for I-69.
The Southwest Indiana Highway Feasibility Study, a.k.a the 1990 Donohue Study, concluded that any highway that traversed the bioregion's forests, rivers, caves and endangered species habitat would be the most expensive ever built in Indiana.
Daniels is the fourth governor -- Bayh, O'Bannon and Kernan preceded him -- to ignore Donahue's conclusions and forge ahead with the environmentally devastating, multi-billion-dollar bonanza for the highway construction lobby and related special interests -- including lawyers, bankers, real estate speculators, oil companies and corporate fast food joints.
In March, INDOT demolished two homes in I-69's path just west of Oxby's, starting with the clearing of trees.
Vic Nurrenbern, who owns the property on Ind. 68 between Oxby and I-69, pointed to the south side of the state road. "The other two on the left, they're supposed to be torn down, too," he said.
Nurrenbern said the pace of activity picked up when Daniels took office.
"I always say he wants to put his name on it," he laughed.
A wooden stake with yellow flag hammered into the ground just a few yards from Oxby's breezeway door validates her claim that INDOT took her yard. Her view will soon be a fence.
At least that's how Nurrenbern, who has become friends with the contractor working the project, understands the plan.
"Right there, to that stake, which is about 20 feet from the front door, that's where they're going to put the fence," he said, standing in his own yard, pointing down a row of stakes that lead to Oxby's yard and beyond.
The fence's purpose is to eliminate access to Ind. 68 as it approaches I-69, he said.
The road won't widen for the intersection until another couple hundred yards past his house, Nurrenbern said. So traffic won't be passing any closer to his or Oxby's homes.
But Ind. 57, which is now an artery into Evansville via I-164, will become a county road. And that will dramatically increase the cars and trucks on Ind. 68.
"All that traffic that is going down 57 right now is going to come past here, if they want to go to Evansville," he said. "So it's going to be a ton more traffic by here."
Like Oxby, Nurrenbern hired a lawyer and fought INDOT. But he found the deck was stacked.
About a year-and-a-half ago, INDOT approached him about buying all of his property. But as the process evolved, the plans changed, and INDOT only took one-quarter acre of his yard.
"Well, they didn't have a good one," he said, unable to explain why INDOT wouldn't buy his house, as initially discussed.
Oxby, an I-69 supporter who thinks it is 25 years too late, said she did not want to share her opinion on what the state has done to her. But she did offer some thoughts.
"Well, I wish they wouldn't have done it, left me like this, that's for sure," she said. "It's not the way I planned my old age. I'm 83."
The initial road building has been carried out under heavy security, according to Nurrenbern and Tom Tokarski from Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads.
"It was pretty crazy there two weeks ago, whenever they started taking out these trees," Nurrenbern said. "They had cops on 24-hour surveillance on the place."
When Tokarski learned that the destruction was set to begin, he went there to take photos. He and Sandra Tokarski explained what happened in a March 12 e-mail to I-69 activists.
"On March 10th Thomas Tokarski went to the site to photograph the homes scheduled for demolition and was accosted by State Police," they wrote. "He was thoroughly interrogated, and his person and car were searched."
Standing on a roadway taking photographs is a perfectly legal activity, the Tokarskis noted. And these four homes are like nearly 400 to come -- soon to be demolished.
"The bulldozing of homes is acceptable to Gov. Daniels, but photographing those same homes, apparently, is not," they said. "We need to stop this now. Four homes are lost, but hundreds are left to be saved."
Steven Higgs can be reached at .
Video of the initial I-69 work by Evansville activist John Blair.