Indiana legislators pass bill seeking to deregulate wetlands

Indiana’s protections for certain wetlands would end under legislation state lawmakers approved in the waning hours of their session, even though the state’s own environmental agency joined environmentalists in opposing the measure.

Senate Bill 229 was authored by Sen. Victoria Spartz, whose family was once cited by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for destroying wetlands.

The legislation would remove state oversight of some wetlands near what are dubbed regulated drains, which are thousands of miles of man-made ditches, streams, sewers and drainage pipes built throughout Indiana in the past century to reduce flooding.

The measure passed each chamber mainly along party lines, with GOP approval and Democratic opposition. It now proceeds to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk. Holcomb’s office didn’t return a message Friday from The Associated Press seeking information about his position on the bill.

The bill seeks to allow county surveyors to clear certain wetlands when making repairs to regulated drains without requesting permission from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Environmental advocates and the state’s environmental management department contend that the move would ultimately cause more flooding, less clean water and the loss of wildlife. Both have suggested that the county surveyors need to ask the Army Corp of Engineers whether wetlands are under local or federal authority before starting any work to knock out wetlands.

However, surveyors argue they can act unilaterally to clear wetlands if they feel there is no federal jurisdiction.

The bill does not provide guidance on how to resolve this issue.

Rep. David Wolkins, who helped usher the legislation through the General Assembly, said Wednesday that surveyors would likely continue working on projects that impact wetlands without seeking consent and “deal with the consequences” if told that the Army Corps should have been involved.

Republican lawmakers added language to the measure aiming to limit the scope of what county surveyors can do. Legislators also added language to note such work cannot “substantially change the characteristics of the drain.”

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