INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana House of Representatives is considering a bill to deregulate wetlands on Monday.

The bill is on the House calendar for a second reading on when General Assembly convenes at 10 a.m.

Wednesday, the House Environmental Affairs Committee voted along party lines, with Republicans in the 5-4 majority, to send Senate Bill 229 to the full House. The bill passed the Indiana Senate by a bipartisan vote of 32-18 on Feb. 10.

It originally had been intended to be heard by the House Local Government Committee, chaired by Rep. Denny Zent, R-Angola.

It “got very unexpectedly pulled out of the House Local Government Committee and moved into the House Environmental Committee” on Tuesday, said Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

The House Environmental Committee is chaired by Rep. David Wolkins, R-Warsaw.

Wednesday, lawmakers somewhat narrowed the scope of the bill that would remove state regulation of certain wetlands before advancing the measure forward in the Indiana House, but environmental advocates still worry the legislation would lead to more flooding, less clean water and the loss of wildlife.

The Hoosier Environmental Council, a 37-year-old statewide environmental policy organization, says removing the need for permits for the reconstruction of drains could cause excessive damage to wetlands. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management also opposes the change.

The bill, as written, “provides that a permit is not required from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for the reconstruction or maintenance of a regulated drain for purposes of the law concerning state regulated wetlands, if the reconstruction or maintenance of a regulated drain occurs within an existing regulated drainage easement under the drainage law.”

The Indiana Isolated Wetlands Law was created in 2003 to preserve Indiana wetlands that aren’t federally protected.

The wetlands law in its current form does not stop reconstruction of drains. It has a permit process to ensure that wetlands are preserved to the extent possible and replaced when they can’t be preserved.

A Feb. 17 article in the Indianapolis Star suggests SB 229 is political, possibly narcissistic, while being negligent of environmental concerns. The headline reads “Lawmaker wants to deregulate wetlands. Her family once was cited for bulldozing them.”

“Sen. Victoria Spartz, R-Noblesville, wrote Senate Bill 229, which removes state oversight of certain wetlands near what are called regulated drains, which are thousands of miles of man-made ditches, streams, sewers and drainage pipes constructed throughout Indiana in the past century to alleviate flooding,” says the article, written by Chris Sikich.

Indy Star articles suggest the bill was created as a grudge against IDEM by Hamilton County Surveyor Kent Ward.

“Hamilton County Surveyor Kent Ward says he brought the idea to Spartz, who is his local senator. He thinks the state overreached when it made the county pay more than $140,000 in taxpayer money to restore a wetlands the county cut down while repairing such a drainage system,” says the Feb. 17 report.

IDEM said Hamilton County failed to obtain a permit to tear down a wooded wetland in a farm field when it repaired the drain.

“IDEM and several environmental groups, including the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Indiana Wildlife Association and the Sierra Club of Indiana, opposed the bill. They say the bill reaches too far to correct one dispute,” says a Thursday report in the Indy Star. “They say the bill would allow surveyors too much authority to widen, deepen or move regulated drains without state oversight, potentially creating situations that could lead to more flooding, loss of wetlands and wildlife. They worry the bill would remove state experts from monitoring certain wetlands while allowing each county to regulate drains differently, creating a patchwork of rules across Indiana.”

Taxpayer comments about SB 229 can be directed to local representatives. Zent represents most of Steuben and LaGrange counties, Rep. Ben Smaltz represents mainly DeKalb County and Rep. David Abbott serves mainly Noble County.

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