developers clash over wetlands policy
Wetlands isolated from lakes or streams are at the center
of a debate among Indiana environmentalists, builders,
farmers and legislators over the state's authority to
A panel of state
lawmakers this summer is trying to decide how strictly
such wetlands, some smaller than an acre, should be regulated
by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
breeding areas for waterfowl, offer habitat for plants
and animals, help filter groundwater and control flooding.
They also often
stand in the way of millions of dollars in housing and
business development that many communities would welcome.
It all adds up to what state Sen. Beverly Gard calls "a
very contentious issue."
"I think the General
Assembly has pretty well said we think we need to do something,"
said Gard, R-Greenfield, a member of the Legislature's
Environmental Quality Service Committee.
The panel was instructed
to work on the issue over the summer. The issue came to
a head after a Fort Wayne home builder won a lawsuit claiming
IDEM did not have the power to regulate isolated wetlands.
That claim was
based partly on a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that
federal jurisdiction over isolated wetlands didn't exist
and IDEM had been regulating them under the federal
Clean Water Act.
IDEM claimed it
still had state authority, but developers said the Legislature
had never granted it that power. The agency is being allowed
to continue regulating isolated wetlands while it appeals.
But Gard and others
say it's time for lawmakers to settle the matter permanently
by adopting rules and giving IDEM the authority to regulate
fear those rules could be significantly more lax once
lawmakers and businesses are done weighing in.
want weaker rules overall, and that's where we will be
focused to try to prevent that," said Tim Maloney, executive
director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
"The idea that
isolated wetlands are somehow interfering with economic
progress does not make sense," he said. "It's such a small
area that it is totally bogus to say it would interfere
with sensible development."
Maloney said isolated
wetlands most of Indiana's are 1- to 10-acre areas
in the northern part of the state provide the same
benefits as those connected to other waterways. But developers
say it makes no economic or environmental sense to keep
some smaller wetlands.
"If it's anything
substantial, we preserve it and make it part of the (development's)
open space," said Orrin Sessions, vice chairman of the
Indiana Home Builders Association's land development committee.
"But a little spot in the middle of a residential area
doesn't do anyone any good; it's better to have a wetland
out where wildlife can get to it."
That could be the
heart of the issue in Indiana.
Industry and agriculture
officials want the state to allow wetlands "banking,"
in which farmers or developers could restore a former
wetland or create a new one, and developers could buy
into it in exchange for filling wetlands elsewhere.
The concept is
similar to state and federal air pollution programs that
allow businesses to bank or trade emissions reductions.