Planning for A Better Tomorrow

I currently work as an environmental planner with the Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG), a metropolitan planning organization in north-central Indiana. A “council-of-governments” is a very unique form of government in which the organization is overseen by a board composed of local, state, and federal officials within our four-county planning region. Us staff are here to work with these elected officials in our four-county region on all of their planning needs:  from transportation to economic development, from urban planning to transit. Essentially we are here to make sure everyone is developing their communities in a way that betters the region as a whole.

While our office focuses primarily in transportation, we do have an environmental department consisting of one staff member, me. My role as an environmental planner (or director of environmental programs as I like to call myself) at MACOG can be broken into three categories:

  1. Environmental Impact Analysis – Our office has to approve and facilitate the funding of any transportation project in our region that receives state or federal dollars (which is nearly all of them). Before any project can be approved, I will conduct an brief analysis of the potential impact that project could have our natural resources. This analysis can assist engineers and project managers on selecting alternatives that will reduce the impacts of development on our natural resources.
  2. Partner’s for Clean Air – I run MACOG’s Partner’s for Clean Air Program, which is an education and outreach program on how individuals and local business and improve our air quality. Two decades ago this was a very popular and prominent program in our region because we had serious air quality issues. However, the MACOG region has drastically reduced its emissions over the past decade which has resulted in air quality that meets federal air quality standards nearly 99% of the time.
  3. Joseph River Basin Commission – This is where my true passion resides and how I spend most of my time at the office. I am the acting staff of the St. Joseph River Basin Commission, an organization
    20160329_144833

    Facilitating a meeting of stakeholders in the St. Joseph River Watershed, discussing project alternatives to alleviate flooding issues in lake communities.

    established under Indiana Code composed of local and state representatives dedicated to improving water quality in the St. Joseph River. My role with the SJRBC is very smiliar to my role at MACOG, I produce the work under a workplan approved by the SJRBC’s governing board. The SJRBC has worked on several projects which have benefited the St. Joseph River including: developing watershed management plans, monitoring surface waters, general public education and outreach. The SJRBC also acts as a forum for discussion and cooperative planning of the resources in the watershed. Essentially it is a way to get professionals from all ends of the watershed discussing the projects they are working on, as well as ensuring that we are working towards the same goal of improving the river and all of its tributaries.  My favorite project we’re working on right now is scientific study of a small tributary of the St. Joseph River, Cobus Creek. The study is working to document current water quality trends and conditions within the watershed, identify potential water quality problems, prioritize potential conservation or improvement projects within the watershed, and predict and assess factors of success for future work within the watershed.. But I’m sure I will talk more about the study in a future post.

I enjoy my job at MACOG and with the SJRBC very much, however the majority of my work focuses on planning, education, and collaboration with several agencies. The Cobus Creek study has certainly reminded me that conducting field-work and data collection to solve real-world problems is why I got into the natural resource sector.So that’s why I’m going back to school. It’s my intentions that my studies at LSU will prepare me with the knowledge and intellectual foundation to do more than just coordinate planning, but to actually implement improvements in how we manage our natural resources.

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