Governor signs controversial wetlands bill into law

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a controversial wetlands bill into law on Thursday, disappointing numerous environmental, conservation and civic groups that had spoken out against the legislation.

The legislation, Senate Enrolled Act 389, eliminates a 2003 law that had required builders and developers to secure permits for construction and development in certain state-regulated wetlands. The new legislation also ends enforcement against landowners accused of violating wetlands laws.

Lawmakers passed the legislation on April 14, and it made its way to the governor’s office on Wednesday. Holcomb had seven days in which to decide whether he would sign the bill into law or veto it, but he opted to take quick action.

Some parts of the bill are retroactive to Jan. 1, some take effect immediately and others take effect July 1.

As originally introduced, the bill would have eliminated permit requirements for all classes of wetlands. But after environmental groups and state regulatory officials objected, the bill was scaled back.

“This bill was improved in the House of Representatives after I made my opposition known and I appreciate the changes made by lawmakers,” Holcomb said in a written statement issued after signing the wetlands bill. “Even still, I felt compelled to carefully and deliberately weigh the bill’s intent to protect property rights against its new limitations on land protections. Under this new regulatory scheme, I believe Hoosier farmers and landowners will continue to be careful stewards of the land.”

The Indiana Builders Association had supported the legislation. IBJ was unable to reach the organization for comment Thursday evening. But in a statement posted Tuesday on its website, the organization said the legislation “strikes a balance between reasonable regulations on property owners with isolated wetlands on their property and protecting the environment.”

Also in that statement, the organization said the new legislation will also make housing more affordable by reducing the cost of development. “Regulations at the federal, state and local level now account for roughly 25% of the cost of a house. This is no sticks or bricks, but government regulations, such as Indiana’s isolated wetlands program, pushing the price of housing up to levels that are becoming out of reach for many Hoosiers.”

But statewide environmental and conservation groups, faith-based organizations, local government officials and others had urged Holcomb to veto the wetlands bill. On Thursday, those groups expressed their unhappiness over the governor’s decision.

“I am extremely disappointed,” said Jeff Stant, executive director of the Indiana Forest Alliance. “We, essentially overnight, have thrown out all legal protection for 550,000 to 600,000 of the 800,000 acres of wetlands that were remaining in the state. That’s a shocking level of reduction.”

Wetlands are important, Stant said, because they act as “huge sponges” that help prevent flooding by absorbing rainfall and snow melt. The wetlands also provide vital habitat for wildlife and help filter the groundwater that supplies drinking water for many Hoosiers, he added.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce had also spoken out against the bill.

“It’s surprising and very disappointing that the Governor signed a bill that is likely to have negative impacts on Indiana’s water quality, flood control and quality of place factors that the state needs to attract and retain a skilled workforce,” Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said in a statement.

While Indiana’s wetlands regulations did need improvement, Brinegar said, “it’s unfortunate that legislators chose to rush to action on this matter and not take the proper time to study something that will have such significant ramifications for citizens and businesses, with more than half of the state’s 800,000 acres of wetlands now being eliminated from protection.”

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10 thoughts on “Governor signs controversial wetlands bill into law

  1. Pro-business, anti-person, par for the course. It’s clear that Republicans don’t care about any person more than they care about corporations.

    1. There is simply no justification for these changes other than playing into corporate developers wishes. Indiana has and continues to build on its reputation for stripping the land of its resources in the name of progress. In the 1920s Indiana was stripped of all is standing forest. Down to 5%. Only through enacting a registered forest act did it brake back to the roughly 25% we have today. Our wetlands will now run the same cycle over 3-4 generations. History repeats itself. Especially in Indiana where we so easily forget what was done in the past. Shameless.

  2. Our Republican Legislature and Governor unfortunately seem to have no care about the future of the state, the country, and the planet they are leaving behind for their children and grandchildren. To them, it is all about the now!

  3. “Regulations at the federal, state and local level now account for roughly 25% of the cost of a house. This is no sticks or bricks, but government regulations, such as Indiana’s isolated wetlands program, pushing the price of housing up to levels that are becoming out of reach for many Hoosiers.” – What a load of swamp gas! I’m sure the citizens of Indiana would be much better off with cheaper homes and unregulated infrastructure, design and safety in their homes. Best of luck to all with your wetland development opportunities! Have your attorneys read Section R322 before installing pressure treated foundations in the wetlands!

  4. Thank goodness some people have a little bit of common sense. It was ridiculous to declare a portion of a farmer’ s field that he had farmed for years and years a wet land, simply because an underground drainage line had broken or became clogged.

    1. So obviously the law as stated needed some work to eliminate the ridiculous, but to remove all protections with one broad stroke was not a good and wise move. A sad day for Indiana.

  5. Whose ox is gored? Zoning and environmental regulations limit owners’ land use. The old statute was so vague on what was regulated as to be a quagmire for the owner whose land might be affected. Even worse, it dumped the decision process onto unelected bureaucrats who had no interest other than imposing their ideals on others. A better way to look at what happened is that too broad a law was cut back, not eliminated. It sounds like the governor tried for the best for both sides in working with the General Assembly. That neither side is fully happy suggests he did well.

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