Stadium work

Construction is progressing on Kokomo Municipal Stadium. The city announced it had been granted permission to install turf on the field and seats were being installed Friday, May 1, 2015.

Kokomo Municipal Stadium continues to inch closer to completion, as does a settlement in the ongoing litigation between the city and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Kokomo received the go-ahead to lay the artificial turf for the stadium’s field late last week. Weather permitting, the playing surface will be completed in the next couple of weeks.

“The citizens committee recommended a turf field for a couple of reasons,” Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said. “First, it reduces the long-term maintenance costs for the field. Secondly, it allows for more games or events to be played during a shorter amount of time because it doesn’t incur the same kind of damage as a natural playing surface.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency External Affairs Specialist Cassie Ringsdorf confirmed the approval of turf in a statement.

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency working in collaboration with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security has evaluated the specifications provided by the City of Kokomo for the synthetic playing field and found the proposed product to be acceptable for use on deed restricted parcels," Rindgsdorf said. "FEMA continues to work with IDHS and the city to identify and resolve remaining non-compliance issues with the stadium construction.”

Goodnight said due to emergency legislation introduced in the state Senate this session, the stadium’s construction progress has been significantly slowed. With the Kokomo Jackrabbits set to play their home opener on May 30, Goodnight said avoiding a pile up of work days lost to rain will be a major deciding factor on whether the stadium is completed in time.

Throughout the course of this year’s General Assembly, State Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, was largely known for one thing: his "cease and desist" bill aimed at halting construction on Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

“We always thought turf was an allowable use for those parcels,” he said. “But, they did the extra checks. That’s fine. That’s their job. No hard feelings. The point is they’ve accepted it.

“The biggest obstacle we’re going to have in the next three weeks, because of these unnecessary delays, is going to be the weather factor," Goodnight added. "There are certain things, like putting down turf, that we’re going to need a little cooperation from Mother Nature on.”

IDHS warned the city to of possible construction violations in a letter on Nov. 24. IDHS gave the city 60 days to correct violations on eight restricted parcels associated with the project.

Sen. Jim Buck introduced emergency legislation in January which would’ve allowed IDHS to order a cease and desist on the construction after FEMA threatened it would suspend the state’s access to flood mitigation grant funds.

FEMA suspended Indiana's ability to access the hazard mitigation grant program in February. Buck’s legislation passed the Senate by a supermajority before it was sent to committee in the House. It never left that committee before the legislative session ended Wednesday.

Kokomo sued IDHS to seek injunctive relief in January to prevent IDHS from stopping construction. IDHS filed a counterclaim against the city.

Those lawsuits are still in litigation, but Goodnight reported the two sides are in talks about every other day to reach a resolution. The city maintains it has complied with the terms and conditions for the appropriate use of the land, some of which was purchased with grant funds approved in 1999.

“They, sometimes three times a week, will ask for additional documents and clarification of documents,” Goodnight said. “That’s been going on and it may still take a while. Our position hasn’t changed. They’re doing their due diligence because they have a lot of people involved in this. Because there’s now a spotlight on this, they’re taking extra precautions to make sure everything is in compliance. And we’re OK with that.”

Goodnight added it’s disappointing that area high school teams won’t likely be able to use the stadium this season.

“There are a couple losers in this, considering Jim Buck’s quote unquote emergency legislation,” he said. “It created a cloud of controversy that didn’t exist. It also hurt our community. ... But, most importantly, I think it hurt some of our high school seniors here in Howard County that may have missed an opportunity to actually experience playing in the new stadium. And that’s unfortunate.”

Calls to Buck were not returned.

Josh Sigler can be reached at 765-454-8580, by email at josh.sigler@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @JSig_KT.

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