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Great Lakes Article:

Gard seeks wetland protection
Seth Slabaugh
The Indiana Star Press

MUNCIE - Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, will introduce legislation to protect Indiana's isolated wetlands. Meanwhile, a Democratic leader said he was uncertain "which direction our caucus is going on wetlands."

Gard's bill, still being drafted, reacts to a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Jan. 9, 2001, that determined the federal government lacked authority to regulate isolated wetlands, or those not adjacent to navigable waters of the United States.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management's attempt to regulate isolated wetlands is the subject of a lawsuit pending before the Indiana Supreme Court. IDEM lost that case, brought by an Allen County developer, at the trial court level.

"The status of isolated wetland protection in Indiana right now is in limbo," Gard said.

Her bill will be heard in the Republican-controlled Senate by the Environmental Affairs Committee, which Gard chairs.

The legislation "follows, but goes beyond" the recommendations of the Environmental Quality Service Council, which studied wetland protection last year, Gard said.

Gard chaired EQSC's wetlands statutory group, which urged the Legislature to give IDEM jurisdiction, with certain restrictions, to regulated isolated wetlands. It also recommended that state policy should be "no net loss of wetlands" and "net gain of high quality wetlands."

The senator expects "considerable discussion and debate" on the legislation.

According to the first issue of Hoosier Wetlands - a newsletter published by IDEM, other state agencies and their wetland protection partners - legislators will face "separate and competing bills - one or more that would strengthen wetlands protection, and one or more bills that would weaken wetland protection."

EQSC's chairman, Rep. Jonathan Weinzapfel, D-Evansville, lost his chairmanship of the House Environmental Affairs Committee for "backing the wrong horse for speaker," Gard said.

"We're not sure what direction our caucus is going on wetlands," said Rep. James Bottorff, D-Jeffersonville, who now chairs that committee.

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