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Developers are no-show at hearing over wetlands destruction

Nearly five dozen attendees at a draft wetland permit public hearing listen to Hoosier Environmental Council water policy director Indra Frank testify Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (Provided Photo/Enrique Saenz/Mirror Indy)

INDIANAPOLIS (MIRROR INDY) — Nancy Van Arendonk and her family moved to their Franklin Township home nearly 44 years ago. They’re still enjoying quiet country life while having access to the amenities of a city.

Over decades, retail developments in the township have paved over agricultural land. Those developments, she said, have shifted floodwaters her way, causing her pasture to see waters high enough to reach about halfway up her horse’s leg.

“Every time somebody comes in and tweaks something — they add a housing addition, they pave over a bunch of stuff for whatever, they build buildings — it creates more water that has to go somewhere because it can no longer seep into the ground,” she said.

That’s why she joined about 60 people who showed up at a public hearing at the Edgewood Intermediate School gym Tuesday, April 9. Most opposed a new development that would destroy about 200 acres of nearby farmland, including dozens of the remaining acres of wetlands in the state.

[We love to see neighbors unite and advocate for their needs.]

The developers did not attend the public hearing or respond to Mirror Indy’s request for comment, leading to many unanswered questions from residents about the development.

About 45 acres of wetlands could be destroyed 

The public hearing allowed residents to express how they felt about a draft permit issued to Gershman Partners and Citimark Management. The permit would allow them to build a $175 million project near County Line Road and South Arlington Avenue that would include the construction of multiple warehouses.

The project would destroy about 45 acres of wetlands in the Pleasant Run Creek watershed, including a quarter acre of some of the highest-quality wetlands in the state, known as Class III wetlands. 

Wetlands absorb rainfall and snowmelt and release them slowly. That purifies water and prevents it from entering waterways too quickly and flooding nearby areas. Every acre of wetland can hold about 1 million gallons of water.

Class III wetlands have protections in Indiana that are not given to any other type of wetland under state jurisdiction. Before 2021, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management estimated about 25,000 acres of Class III wetlands are left in the entire state. It’s unclear how many remain, as the state does not have a wetland inventory. Another factor that complicates that assessment is a law passed this year that makes it easier to downgrade wetlands previously identified as Class III to a less-protected class. 

Developers can destroy most wetlands identified by the state as being of “lesser quality” without state approval. But Class III wetlands require developers to apply for a permit and either replace the destroyed wetlands elsewhere or pay the state to do it.

Indra Frank, water policy director for the nonprofit Hoosier Environmental Council, said the Pleasant Run Creek watershed is already so developed that water quality is on the decline.

She said 4.6 miles of Pleasant Run Creek are impaired with E. coli bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting when ingested, and about 20 miles of the creek have other biological impairments. Destroying the few remaining wetlands in the watershed could make things worse, Frank said.

In their permit application, the developers said they would purchase about $49,000 in mitigation credits through the state to replant the wetlands elsewhere. 

The wetlands would be planted in the Upper White River Service Area, a large swath of land in central Indiana. Frank said the mitigation would not help make water quality better for people living near the development. 

“That’s an area of more than 2,700 square miles, and it includes 16 counties from Randolph County at the Ohio border east of Muncie down to Morgan County south of Indianapolis,” Frank said. “There is almost no chance that the replacement wetland will be built in the Pleasant Run Creek watershed.”

A call to preserve wildlife 

Van Arendonk wasn’t the only resident at the hearing who was concerned that the proposed development would affect flooding. 

[Flooding, mosquitos, and potholes — signs of climate change in Indy.]

Some, like Jenny and Kurt Jones, drove across the city to warn residents about what bringing in developments would entail. They live near the Indianapolis International Airport and said they have seen countless acres of formerly verdant land destroyed. 

“The airport destroyed everything near where we live, all the old growth and everything, and I don’t want to see it anymore,” Jenny Jones said. “We don’t have grandkids, but we’d like for other people’s kids to be able to see the birds and see wildlife.” 

“It’s getting to be where the only wildlife you see is squished on the road,” Kurt Jones said.

The call to preserve wildlife extended across ideological lines. 

“I’m quite politically conservative, but I also see the value in keeping some nature around just for people to enjoy,” said veterinarian Tim Thunell. “Wildlife is part of the system. You got to have some balance.” 

Thunell said he and others also were concerned about what the development would do to road safety. 

“County Line Road already feels really dangerous, and if you start putting semis on there, it’s a recipe for disaster for human beings,” Thunell said.

How to submit a public comment

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management will accept public comments until Monday, April 15. The agency will review the comments and use them to make their decision. It’s unclear when the final decision on the permit will happen.

To submit a comment, email IDEM regional project manager Graham Wrin at or call 317-605-4105. Comments should reference the permit application identification number — #IWIP 2023-1011-49-GCW-A-2 — in the email subject line. 

Mirror Indy reporter Enrique Saenz covers west Indianapolis. Contact him at 317-983-4203 or Follow him on X @heyEnriqueSaenz.