Critics oppose Carmel gas station planned near aquifer

Citizens Energy Group is leading the opposition to a gas station planned for 146th Street and River Road on the edge of Carmel, saying it is too close to a major source of central Indiana’s drinking water.

Anderson-based Ricker Oil Co. wants to erect a 4,200-square-foot building to house a fueling station, convenience store and Subway restaurant at the undeveloped southwest corner of the intersection. It plans eight gas pumps on the 1.5-acre site.

The property’s zoning has allowed for a gas station there since 2007, but controversy is surfacing this summer as Ricker’s seeks city approval of its construction plans.

Members of the Carmel Plan Commission heard from Ricker’s and a half-dozen opponents—including Citizens—at a Tuesday evening meeting. Its special studies committee will review the project again next month.

Citizens has three high-capacity groundwater wells less than 2,000 feet from the site, said Jeff Willman, the utility’s director of external affairs, and a total of 24 wells are located within two miles.

Consultant Geoff Glanders, principal hydrogeologist for August Mack Environmental Inc. (and a 25-year Carmel resident) called the property “the worst possible location” for gas station, given the sandy soil and its proximity to “one of the most prolific and vulnerable aquifers in the state.”

“All gas stations leak,” he said, and contaminated soil and groundwater take decades to clean up. Aquifers never fully recover.

Ricker’s representative Joseph Scimia, a real estate attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, said the company “absolutely agrees” that it’s crucial to safeguard the water supply.

To that end, he spelled out a range of protective steps the company plans to take, including monitoring wells, triple-walled storage tanks with built-in leak detection, double-walled piping with protective coating, and an underground containment area and filtering system for storm water runoff. Such measures exceed current safety requirements in the heavily regulated industry, Scimia said.

Although he spent considerable time during his presentation addressing the issue, Scimia also reminded Plan Commission members that their role is to review the development plan and project design—not appropriate uses for the property.

“The city’s legislative body made that determination for you,” he said of the City Council, which OK’d zoning for the site as part of a planned unit development ordinance in 2007. “You neither have the power nor the discretion to overturn or ignore” that decision.

Councilor Kevin “Woody” Rider, who also chairs the Plan Commission’s special studies committee, said the panel will discuss the project with city engineers and utilities department staff before making a recommendation. No permits are issued for any project until all relevant departments sign off on the plans.

Rider was not serving on the council when the PUD ordinance passed, but longtime member Ron Carter was and now regrets including gas stations among the permitted uses.

“I wish we had not done that,” he said at Monday’s council meeting, saying the aquifer is “extremely important to all of us in Carmel and the surrounding communities.”

Indeed, Westfield Mayor Andy Cook, Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear and Fishers Town Council President John Weingardt are among the critics who submitted letters to the Plan Commission opposing the project.

What’s your take on the controversy?

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