Indiana Wetlands at a Crossroads

Environmentalists Fearing Government Wetland Regulations

A 14-acre wetland drained years ago for farmland has now come back to life–a few blocks from a strip mall in Fishers–one of Indiana's fastest-growing town, Associated Press reported.

Lenore Tedesco, geologist and director of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is concerned of possible development because of recent changes in government wetland regulations It's a success story.

According to Tedesco, Indiana ranks fourth in the nation for the loss of its original wetlands.

"As we pave the world with urbanization and destroy all these wetlands, we're impacting water quality in ways we really don't understand," Tedesco said. "How big is it? How much value does it have? Aren't the only questions we should be asking."

A 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prompted states to begin retooling their rules governing "isolated" wetlands–low-lying areas without a surface link to a waterway.

The court declared that the federal government does not have unlimited authority over these wetlands, delighting developers, farmers and others who had long complained that earlier wetland regulations unduly hampered growth, Associated Press reported.

Along with environmentalists' fear that changes will lead to loss of wildlife habitat, according to Tedesco, it's also overlooked that wetlands act as giant, filtering sponges that suck up storm runoff and ease flooding, and she added, "These wetlands have a great role to play."

After the Supreme Court's 2001 decision, legislative fights arose across the nation over how to regulate isolated wetlands in the absence of federal rules, according to Associated Press.

Before Gov. Frank O'Bannon's death last year, a wetlands bill passed by lawmakers, saying it would not achieve its stated goal of "no net loss of wetlands."

At the beginning of this year the legislature overrode his veto and passed another bill that addressed some of the concerns raised by critics and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

According to Sen. Beverly Gard, chairman of the Senate Environmental Affairs Committee, the new law might have ended the long-running fight over wetlands between the General Assembly and the Department of Environmental Management reported the Associated Press.

"I don't see the legislature getting into this issue for a while," said Gard, R-Greenfield.

The new law creates a three-tier system for regulating isolated wetlands, with highest level of protection going to areas dominated by native wetland plants and areas that have experienced few, if any, changes to their original hydrology.

Timothy Method, deputy commissioner for the Department of Environmental Management, said a new permit system and rules for regulating isolated wetlands under the three-class system are being developed by the agency.

The new rules will be forwarded to the Indiana Water Pollution Control Board, which must revise and adopt them no later than June 1, 2005, said Andrew Pelloso, chief of the department's wetland programs, the Associated Press reported.

Patrick Bennett of the Indiana Manufacturers Association said developers, farmers and manufacturers hope the new rules can give them more "certainty" in developing their land and added that environmentalists have overstated the impact of the new rules.

"We're talking about isolated wetlands that by definition could be something as minimal as a roadside ditch, or a low spot in a yard. These aren't these grand, wondrous places that probably are very unique and should be protected," Bennett said.

According to Gildo Tori of the wetlands conservation group Ducks Unlimited Inc. even a small wetland can provide wildlife with a crucial source of food and water.

Associated Press

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