Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Indiana Fire Departments get hosed by ITR operators Cintra and Macquarie

Fire departments want private Toll Road operators to pay


The Associated Press
Copyright 2008

INDIANAPOLIS - The private operators of the Indiana Toll Road would have to pay fire departments that respond to collisions that occur along the northern Indiana interstate under a bill proposed by two state senators.

State Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, said it is unfair that highway operator ITR Concession Co. is making money off the roadway, but not paying property taxes.

"Homeowners and businesses pay for fire protection by paying property taxes. It doesn't seem fair for Hoosiers paying property taxes to cover emergency services on the Toll Road, thereby increasing profits for the Toll Road operation and bolstering pension funds in Australia," he said.

Zakas is co-sponsoring the bill with state Sen. Marlin Stutzman, R-Howe.

In June 2006, the state agreed to lease the 157-mile-long highway to a consortium of Spanish company Cintra and Australia's Macquarie Infrastructure Group for $3.8 billion for 75 years.

ITR Concession spokesman Matt Pierce said instead of charging the Toll Road, the fire departments should bill the person who caused the collision.

"When an accident happens on any roadway, the responsible parties should pay for the services they receive," he said.

Clay Township Fire Chief Timm Schabbel in South Bend, though, said that's a difficult task for small fire departments.

"We don't have the resources to be able to do those types of things," he said.

Schabbel said his financially strapped department is called to accidents on the Toll Road several times a month. Because of the limited access to the Toll Road, Clay Township must call in off-duty personnel to man the fire station when the department responds to calls on the highway.

"We have to do that to make sure the 44,000 people in our community are protected," he said.

Schabbel said the Toll Road stopped paying fire departments for responding to accidents several years before it went private.

The schedule of charges recommended by the State Fire Marshal provides for a $250 fee per response vehicle or $100 for a control vehicle for an initial response. Other recommendations include the actual replacement cost for expendable materials, such as absorption materials and other agents used in cleanup operations.

That reimbursement would help fire departments, Schabbel said.

"We're just trying to recover out costs," he said.

Pierce said he could not comment on what ITR would do if the legislation passed because he has not yet had a chance to read it.

© 2008 The Associated Press:

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