INDIANAPOLIS — A bill on the governor’s desk would allow certain wetlands that have been protected in the past to now be developed.
Wetlands have been a topic of discussion at the statehouse for a few years now. In 2021, the legislature rolled back regulations to build on wetlands.
Environmentalists say House Bill 1383 will roll regulations back even further. They say that’s problematic because wetlands have benefits for both people and wildlife.
“They hold and store excess storm water so that reduces flooding,” Indra Frank, Director of Water Policy at the Hoosier Environmental Council, said. “While they are holding that water, they are allowing it to soak in and replenish our ground water and that is what we need for our wells.”
Many wetlands are currently protected from being built on due to the state law that is currently on the books.
HB 1383 would allow for some Class 3 Wetlands to be reclassified to Class 2, which don’t have as much protection. Classes of wetlands are determined by how much human impact there has been done to them.
While environmental groups don’t support the bill, builders and contractors do. They say these lands need to be used to build more affordable housing options and warehouses to help boost the economy.
“Obviously housing and affordable housing in a massive challenge in Indiana,” Matt Bell, spokesperson for the Associated Builder and Contractors of Indiana Kentucky, said. “A faster, more streamlined process with less red tape is less expensive.”
The Associated Builders and Contractors also say there are steps in place to make sure that if a wetland is being drained, the water is moved somewhere else.
“In a case where a wetland is developed into a residential or commercial property, you have to remember that we have to create an offset,” Bell said. “So, for every acre of wetland lost, we create a new acre and a half.”
But environmentalists say that process doesn’t always work.
“A natural wetland is mature and has a greater impact in terms of the water storage it can have,” Sam Carpenter, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said. “Mitigated wetlands are not always successful. They often fail.”
If those mitigation measures fail, experts say there could be dire consequences that should pique the interest of all Hoosiers.
“What we are going to see is that as these wetlands are filled in, there is going to be more water that they have to deal with,” Brian Vigue, Fresh Water Policy Director with Audubon Great Lakes, said.
If Gov. Holcomb signs the bill, it would go into effect on July 1. All major environmental groups in Indiana are urging him to veto the legislation.
To see where wetlands are located in your district, click here.