Citizens Action Coalition releases report criticizing IEDC’s handling of proposed water project
A new report from the Citizens Action Coalition released on Monday criticizes the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s proposal to pipe water from Tippecanoe County to an industrial park in Lebanon.
The environmental advocacy group’s report underlines “deficiencies” with state water policy.
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.
The report outlines a series of concerns with the state’s handling of the water project – including the lack of legislative oversight and the fact that local jurisdictions don’t have control over groundwater.
Grant Smith is a consultant for the Citizens Action Coalition. He said he worries ratepayers will ultimately have to foot the bill for the new water infrastructure.
“They [the state] committed to it before they understood exactly what the situation was with water or how things were going to be paid for,” he said. “Right now the taxpayer and ratepayer is at substantial risk.”
The report specifically speculates that if a utility – such as Indiana American Water – were to be put in charge of providing water infrastructure to the industrial district, the costs of that infrastructure may ultimately be borne by ratepayers.
An initial agreement with Citizens Energy Group to provide water to Lebanon dissolved earlier this year.
In total, the CAC report estimated that the IEDC has spent close to $1 billion in taxpayer funds on the project so far -- with other costs, including an estimated $2 billion pipeline, still to come.
Smith said the report shows that a quasi-governmental agency like the IEDC is difficult to hold accountable.
“It really demonstrates that the IEDC has to be abolished and a transparent department of commerce has to be established, or they have to reform IEDC, or we’re going to keep running into these issues,” he said.
The report is part of a growing opposition to the proposed pipeline and the IEDC more broadly.
Several cities have passed resolutions opposing the pipeline project, and Tippecanoe County commissioners passed an ordinance last week blocking large water withdrawals from the county for the next nine months.
David Sanders is a West Lafayette city councilor and an organizing member of Stop the Water Steal, a group opposing the IEDC’s project. He said the report adds to the conversation around the pipeline.
“Much of the information in it is things we’ve previously known, but they’ve presented it in an effective manner that tells the citizens of Indiana what is at stake here in terms of lack of planning, the effect of water distribution in the state, and I think it’s an important contribution to the opposition to the LEAP pipeline,” he said.
Two state agencies are in the process of conducting studies of water availability in Indiana -- both for the Tippecanoe County region and statewide.
The IEDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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