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Great Lakes Article:

Leave wetlands veto alone
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
01/07/04

The late Gov. Frank O'Bannon's veto of a severely flawed wetlands regulation bill was the right decision in May and remains so today. The General Assembly should reject efforts to override it.
An override would be a major step backward in protecting state wetlands, 85 percent of which have already disappeared. Much of the remainder would be subject to drainage, filling and unrestricted discharges of pollutants under Senate Bill 1798.

O'Bannon described the legislation as "unsatisfactory, even as a starting place for state regulation." His veto included an order creating a task force led by the heads of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Indiana Department of Natural Resources to make new recommendations to the General Assembly for 2004.

Unfortunately, the task force failed to deliver. In the meantime, environmental groups fear supporters of the bill in the House will try to revive it.

The bill sprang from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that stripped the federal government of authority to regulate isolated wetlands - defined as pools, bogs and other swampy areas with no surface connection to lakes, streams and other navigable waters. Such areas constitute about a third of the state's remaining wetlands.

IDEM tried to take over wetland regulation from the federal government. But a lawsuit filed by an Allen County developer stopped the agency from doing so. An Indiana Supreme Court decision reversed the lower court ruling late last year and upheld IDEM's authority to regulate isolated wetlands.

The list of environmental damage that would accompany further loss of wetlands includes more flooding, pollution, and mosquitoes capable of bearing West Nile virus. Wetlands help limit such problems by serving as sponges for excessive water and serving as habitats for animals that feed on mosquitoes.

Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, a supporter of the legislation, has defended it as "a balance between protecting valuable isolated wetlands, recognizing the role of local government in land use planning and recognizing private property rights."

The rate at which wetlands have been disappearing in Indiana suggests that private property owners had all the rights they needed without the legislation. In some parts of the country, environmental regulations are blamed for raising the cost of housing by imposing too many barriers to new construction. Indiana has plenty of affordable housing; the same cannot be said about wetlands.

The General Assembly should reject any attempt at a veto override. Gov. Joe Kernan can help clarify the state's role in regulating wetlands by demanding more action from the task force appointed by O'Bannon.

Wetlands are crucial to the state's environment. They need more, not less, protection from development.


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