On August 18, I was laying on my couch, mindlessly dozing in front of a Sunday afternoon TV movie when two neighbors arrived with a map showing my house on two of the newly announced routes for I-69.
On August 20, I wrote a speech for the INDOT I-69 meeting at BHSN that night. I titled it, "The I-69 toll way, what will be the toll in human sickness, death and divorce?" I compared the highway's damage to acts of nature, including a tornado from Evansville to Bloomington that never lifted and with a roar that may never stop. I concluded that even a tornado leaves the land to resettle with one's neighbors and family. For the text of that speech, see ....
After writing my speech, I had two hours to think of something else I might do to save our home. I decided that it would be possible to develop a "CARR Tour of the New Terrain Routes." I called Sandra Tokarski and asked if it would be OK to use their website to put interested persons in contact with the event. I got permission and made a poster announcing the "CARR Tour." That poster can be seen at: www.i69tour.org/rallyposter.gif.
I had thrown myself into something that only I thought was possible to pull off. Being a bicyclist who has done a fair amount of touring, I new that the distance could be easily traveled, even at a slow speed, in a day. Having just followed the Tour de France in July, I had ideas for organizing the event.
I had imagined that it would take a lot of help, but I told CARR that I would personally notify every person on every route that their homes were under the threat of eminent domain if need be. I got a lot of help, but we still haven't fully accomplished this goal.
I told CARR that I did not want to be a financial burden to them, and it was mutually decided that I would form my own organization. CARR felt they had been marginalized by the H-T, and I was afraid that the older persons who were going to be separated from their homes would not participate in something looked at as a "protesters' organization." Being a long-time supporter of CARR, I did not view it this way, but a neighbor told me that this was an obstacle to overcome.
COUNT US was born, later changed to COUNT US! I am a Webmaster of moderate ability, so a Website was begun. All the simple I-69 URL's were taken, so I settled on .... Someone I never communicate with forwarded a mass mailing regarding the I-69 project from Claire, who lives not far from my home. She came to my house. We talked about my plans.
Over the next week, Claire printed out quality 8-1/2" x 11" copies of the maps from the Bernardin Lochmueller & Associates DEIS Website. I designed and printed two-sided legal sized fliers that were discernible as maps to only about one in two or three persons. They did say clearly, though, "Your house is on one of the New Terrain I-69 routes and you need to go to a library and look at the atlas."
I provided a lot of other contact information and advertised the tour. The date had been set for Oct. 21, but when I wasted a week getting started, I bought it back by pushing the Tour until Oct 27. I had wished for the October colors of autumn, but with the leaves turning brown from drought in late August and too much to do in too little time, I went for the latest date possible and still leave time for persons to meet INDOT's Nov. 7 comment deadline.
The months were intense. Every waking hour was filled with informing the persons whose homes are within 1,000 feet of one of the four new-terrain routes, or with other preparation for the tour, when I was not at work. A series of volunteers helped with map distribution. I developed an e-mailing list for COUNT US!
Three of the most intense persons fighting this highway live within a five-minute walk of each other here. Tom Edington is a self-proclaimed red neck and retired phone installer for AT&T. Alex Scott is a psychologist, and I would say a historian. All three of us have been living "stop I-69" intensely, working hour after hour on this and sleeping little.
At the two-month mark, I had had slept one seven-hour night. My average sleep was an often-interrupted four hours, when I would wake up with my heart pounding with anxiety. Two nights a week there were three hours of sleep. I held up better than I would have expected, though I now fit in pants that I should have thrown away years ago and only a couple of my belts have enough holes. Coffee is a staple.
I decided early on that I would not focus on the local newspaper, and I was not going to worry about what they thought. I purchased one paper in the last three months. My intention was to create something so big that they would have to pay attention.
When we had covered about 80 percent of the Monroe County homes with our fliers, I called the paper to give them a piece of my mind. I called Mike Leonard, Bob Zaltsberg, and Bill Strother and told each that they were "not worthy of a free press." Zaltsberg was an answering machine, but the other two didn't much seem to care. Strother, in fact said, "We don't care about you," and accused me of being coached by someone.
All the time I was traveling up and down the new terrain routes, putting out maps and talking to people and getting newly made friends to put out maps for me, I never met a person who wasn't grateful for being informed. I saw several faces sink into depression the same way mine had. It is incredible when you see it just wash across a human spirit.
Two farmers north of Washington were herding cattle into a stall on their breeder lot when Tom Edington and I drove the half-mile lane with cow piles the deepest I have ever seen. The farmer, in his late 50s, guessed that we were assessors when he saw our maps. When we said, "No it's I-69," he responded, "I hope it goes right over me given the price of cattle." When we showed him that he would be cut off and bought out, he cried.
Bobby Atkins was another farmer further south in Pike or Gibson County. Neighbors told me to go talk to him because the state police had been to his house when he pulled the stakes from his land. I had a nice visit with him, trying to encourage him to drive his new sky blue T-bird in the Car Tour. He said no, he would drive his pickup if he felt up to it. He pointed out that the road would go exactly corner to corner on his 180 acre field, leaving him nothing but two triangles of "point rows." Bobby died this week. He was quoted by HEC as saying, "You can't eat concrete."
I could go on and on about the people I met doing this project. Close to home and across the state, everyone is mentioning the new community that we are feeling, given our shared peril. People who disagree with each other are working side-by-side, and old friends who don't understand, or worse, are being discarded with hardly a thought. My forehead to my hairline seems to be getting taller.
The publicity for the I-69 Sunday Drive of the New Terrain Routes was built on the sweat equity of months of door-to-door delivery of the maps and a 90-something number fax broadcasting system that sent faxes to that many newspapers, radio stations and television stations in the region.
We ran good-sized ads in all the little papers in the area, too. Oliver's Winery bought an ad in the Tour Guide, and several persons donated perhaps another $1000. I put in an amount that I have not determined yet. A benefit planned might bring this down, but one thing I am having a hard time understanding is why more people aren't throwing money at stopping this thing, because they are going to loose tens of thousands of dollars in equity if the highway comes through, especially if it is close, but does not take their home.
I wish we had money to run lots of full page ads in the major papers from now until Gov. O'Bannon and Lt. Gov. Kernan decide how bad to stick it to us. Kernan needs to hear that he should hit the road if he is going to build this road. He is key to this decision, because it is assumed that he will want to follow O'Bannon in the governorship. He talks about farm conservation but is part of an administration that would destroy and divide more productive Indiana farmland than any project that will ever follow.
That is why, as a Greene County resident, I do not resent having "planners." Rock Boncheck at one meeting said, 'Yeah, the folks in Greene county think planning is a "Communist plot," to which I responded, 'No I think it is a "Capitalist plot, take from the common citizen to build for the big box store. It is planners who think up massive projects like I-69."
The I-69 Sunday Drive was beautiful. The timing worked to perfection, even though we had never pre-timed an actual run. The leaves were peaking and the attitude of the participants was jubilant. We had an open mike format at the end point at Southwestway Park on Mann Road near I 465. Unlike INDOT, moderator Mitch Rice didn't yell at us when our two minutes of comment time was up.
We got three TV stations in Indy, one in Evansville, and one in Terre Haute to come out and cover our event. All of the newspapers gave us coverage, and our message, "Save $1 billion dollars to fix the roads we have" was heard across the state. That is what it was all for, the 15 seconds of TV time to say: "Do the fiscally responsible thing, save $1 billion dollars, preserve the economic corridor that exists on US 41, and fix the roads we have!"
Somehow through it all, we did one other thing that we really didn't have time to do. We formed a Political Action Committee, and we are distributing our COUNT US! PAC, I-69 VOTERS GUIDE. It's available at .... A paper version is available at Bikesmiths, 112 S College Ave. We hope to get the remaining thousand or so out to voters before the election.
John Smith is a Greene County resident and owner of the Bikesmiths bicycle shop in Bloomington.