An exhibit at the Indiana State Museum recreates the Grand Kankakee Marsh, which once covered some 500,000 acres in Northwest Indiana until it was drained for agricultural purposes. Staff photo by Dan Carden
An exhibit at the Indiana State Museum recreates the Grand Kankakee Marsh, which once covered some 500,000 acres in Northwest Indiana until it was drained for agricultural purposes. Staff photo by Dan Carden
The Indiana Senate voted 29-19 Monday to allow property owners to fill or drain any state-regulated wetlands on their property — putting up to 80% of the remaining wetlands in the state at risk of permanent elimination.

Senate Bill 389, which now goes to the House, repeals all state regulations on wetlands and terminates all pending administrative and legal actions against individuals who violated the regulations while they were in effect.

The sponsor of the measure, state Sen. Chris Garten, R-Charlestown, said the legislation is needed to rein in what he sees as regulatory overreach and out-of-control enforcement by the administration of Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

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Garten claimed Monday that Holcomb’s Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Indiana Department of Natural Resources are conspiring to strip Hoosiers of their private property rights, especially farmers and home developers.

“Overregulation is having severe negative effects on the agricultural community and farming operations,” Garten said. “However, they have a real fear of retaliatory action should anybody speak out.”

“Senate Bill 389 is a check and a balance on an agency and on programs that have gone unchecked and unnoticed for far too long.”

The wetlands at issue are known as “isolated wetlands” because they do not directly connect to a waterway. The 20% of wetlands in Indiana that are linked to waterways will continue to be regulated by the federal government.

Nevertheless, state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, said isolated wetlands still provide essential water absorption, water filtration, flood control and natural habitat that Indiana could lose forever, just as the state already has lost 85% of its historical wetlands, including the Grand Kankakee Marsh that once covered much of Northwest Indiana.

She said that’s not worth giving up because a few farmers and homebuilders take issue with a state agency that’s been managed solely by Republican governors for the past 17 years.

“This bill is for the benefit of a very few people,” Tallian said. “It jeopardizes the planet for all the rest of us.”

“To totally deregulate Indiana’s non-jurisdictional wetlands is completely irresponsible. We’ve been trying to protect these wetlands for over 90 years — and we should keep doing it.”

All 29 votes in favor of the legislation came from Senate Republicans.

Nine Republicans joined every Senate Democrat in voting against the measure, including state Sens. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, and Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso.

State Sens. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, and Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, both were absent.
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