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COA affirms conservancy district

January 1, 2008
The Indiana Court of Appeals had the opportunity to determine whether construction of a bridge and road is permitted under Indiana Code when establishing a conservancy district, but didn't rule on the issue because taxpayers wouldn't be responsible for paying for construction.

In In re: Petition for the establishment of the Millpond Conservancy District, No. 76A03-0711-CV-536, remonstrators argued the trial court erred in establishing a conservancy district initiated by the Town of Hamilton. They claim because the construction of a road and bridge in the proposed project underlying the district doesn't appear in the statute that lists permissible purposes for the establishment of a conservancy district, Indiana Code Section 14-33-1-1, the project should have been scrapped.

Hamilton wanted the district to make improvements to a dam and spillway on Hamilton Lake, as well as a new bridge and road. At a hearing held by the Natural Resources Commission on Hamilton's petition for the district, representatives for the Department of Natural Resources testified that the Indiana Department of Transportation would pay all costs for the bridge and road. Eventually, the trial court approved the petition.

I.C. Section 14-33-1-1(a) lists the reasons for establishing a conservancy district, with Hamilton's amended petition for the establishment of the conservancy district listing subsection 9(a) - "operation, maintenance, and improvement of: a work of improvement for water based recreational purposes."

Whether the construction of a road or bridge falls under that subsection or any of the other ones listed in the statute is an important question worthy of debate, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. However, the court didn't address the issue because the remonstrators wouldn't be financially responsible for the construction of the bridge and road.

The remonstrators' argument against the conservancy district is they don't want to be taxed to pay for construction, just for flood prevention and control. Since INDOT is paying for the construction, the appellate court doesn't need to determine whether that portion of the project is a permissible purpose for creating a conservancy district under I.C. Section 14-33-1-1, wrote the judge. As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the establishment of the district.
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