Some Changes To The Controversial Wetlands Bill Contradict Others

Apr 13, 2021

A wetland area at Bean Blossom Bottoms Nature Preserve in Monroe County.
Credit Alex Paul / WTIU

A bill that originally aimed to remove protections for Indiana’s wetlands has undergone some big and somewhat contradictory changes.

On Monday, House lawmakers adopted an amendment to SB 389 by Rep. Harold Slager (R-Brookston) that would create a task force to study the issues that prompted the bill. Developers say Indiana’s wetlands law has driven up home prices. Some farmers have gotten into conflict with the state after some of their land was deemed a wetland.

Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) said these are complex issues and it’s important that experts get a chance to study them before the legislature changes the wetlands law.

“You know, we don’t have many wetlands left and we really need to be very cautious about what we do,” she said.

READ MORE: Bill To Remove State Protections For Wetlands, Passed By Committee

But the House also added an amendment to the bill that would reduce regulations for some smaller and less pristine wetlands as well as streams created by heavy rains. Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne) said there’s no reason why the state can’t have both a task force and reduce these regulations.

“I think this allows the farming community and the landowners back in control until such a time as that task force tells us to do different," he said.

READ MORE: How Do I Follow Indiana's Legislative Session? Here's Your Guide To Demystify The Process

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Yet another amendment added by Rep. Dan Leonard (R-Huntington) would make the bill retroactive as of Jan. 1, 2021. That may mean some people who applied for permits to build in some wetland areas would no longer need them and wouldn't have to pay fees to the state to compensate for any harm their projects may cause to wetlands. 

"I have a local industry in the community that I represent that this would save about $250,000 in mitigation fees," Leonard said. 

If the controversial bill passes the House, it’s possible there could be even more changes before it reaches the governor’s desk.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.