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Gov. Holcomb moves LEAP water study away from Indiana Economic Development Corporation oversight

Governor Eric Holcomb on Monday directed the Indiana Finance Authority to take over a water study looking at withdrawals in Tippecanoe County (FILE PHOTO: WBAA/Ben Thorp)
Governor Eric Holcomb on Monday directed the Indiana Finance Authority to take over a water study looking at withdrawals in Tippecanoe County (FILE PHOTO: WBAA/Ben Thorp)

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb directed the Indiana Finance Authority Monday to take over a study looking into whether water in Tippecanoe County could be used to support a large industrial district in Lebanon.

That study was being overseen by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, which faces growing opposition across the region.

Water is essential to the large industrial park being built in Lebanon — and state officials hope to pipe millions of gallons for the project from Tippecanoe County.

So far, Eli Lilly is the only company to break ground at the park. The IEDC has said there is enough water to support Lilly’s $3.7 billion investment.

Local officials and some state lawmakers have both questioned the IEDC’s transparency around the water study and called for any data collected to be submitted for an independent, third-party review.

David Sanders is a West Lafayette city councilor who introduced a resolution opposing a proposed water pipeline and formed a local group, Stop the Water Steal. He said shifting the study away from the IEDC is a step in the right direction.

“It is an excellent move to get some independent agency looking at something that was started by the IEDC,” he said. “I think removing the IEDC is the correct move.”

Sanders said he feels the growing opposition in recent months – including resolutions against a potential pipeline being passed in Lafayette and Attica – have helped get the governor’s attention.

“People contacting their legislators is having an effect,” he said. “Democracy can work.”

In addition to moving the study to a new agency, Holcomb also directed the Finance Authority to accelerate the start of a second regional water study looking at watersheds across a broader swath of North Central Indiana.

Holcomb has also directed the IFA to add new water monitoring devices locally to provide assurance that “water use and availability will continue to be tracked accurately and in real-time.”

“I am confident that these new efforts led by IFA will provide the necessary data to gain a greater understanding of the amount of excess water that is truly available to support all the surrounding region’s growth prior to any action being taken that could inadvertently jeopardize this needed resource,” Holcomb said in a statement.

The IFA oversees state-related debt issuance and financing.

David Rosenberg is the Indiana Secretary of Commerce and head of the IEDC. In a statement, he said the IFA is the right agency to continue the study.

“This work helps keep Indiana’s foot on the gas as we continue the historic economic momentum of the last two years with a focus on growing Indiana’s population and attracting industries of the future,” he said.

Rosenberg also called water being examined by the study “one of the most productive water assets in the state.”

The results of IFA’s initial study are expected in January 2024, with the more comprehensive water study ordered by Holcomb expected sometime in the fall.