Indiana Department of Homeland Security Director of Public Information John Erickson wants to make one thing clear: IDHS is in favor of economic development in the Hoosier State.
In fact, IDHS supports the construction of Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
However, there are rules that have to be followed when building structures on the type of land the stadium sits on, he said. Specifically, the eight pieces of land that were purchased with the help of Hazard Mitigation Program funds decades ago. That land has deed restrictions that mandate which uses are appropriate.
And, therein lies the problem.
The IDHS filed a countersuit against the City of Kokomo late last week in response to the lawsuit the city filed on Jan. 26. The city is seeking judicial assistance to prevent the IDHS from forcing the city to stop building the stadium because it is allegedly in violation of the original agreement between the two entities.
“One of the other things I would say that’s been in this conversation all along is what the city of Kokomo was supposed to do originally was get approval for any changes to these properties prior to the beginning of construction,” Erickson said Wednesday. “It isn’t something they can’t do in a passive way. ‘Unless we hear from you, we’re going to move forward.’ That isn’t how this works. They need to get specific approval.”
Kokomo says it sent a letter to IDHS on July 17 to try to address the matter. Erickson said that letter doesn’t absolve the city of its responsibility to adhere to the restrictions put on the parcels at the construction site, some of which now have concrete and fill dirt on them.
“When any other project has been embarked upon on land that’s been purchased through this program, the local entity has had to have the plans approved prior to the completion of construction, or they can't do them,” Erickson said. “We’re very very clear on that.”
Of the eight parcels in question, in the eyes of IDHS, at least two present major problems.
One parcel near where a dugout is supposed to go already has a concrete support wall built on it.
That’s a minor issue compared to the second one: fill dirt. An incalculable amount of fill dirt has been brought to the site to raise the stadium above flood elevation.
FEMA, which relies on IDHS to be the enforcer, has said the only way to bring the project back into compliance is to remove all the structures that have been placed on the eight parcels of land to bring them back into compliance, Erickson said. That includes removing the fill dirt.
“There are some ideas which have been presented [by Kokomo] which have not met with FEMA’s criteria,” Erickson said. “Within that same option, there’s removing the concrete, removing the fill dirt and bringing everything back to its original state. The other option is legislative action, congressional action that would remedy the situation.”
So, why is fill dirt such a big deal in a flood plain? Erickson explained that once the fill dirt becomes compressed, it can change the drainage properties of the area and exacerbate the problem for an area already prone to flooding.
The other part is the elevation. Those properties were requested to be purchased with the help of FEMA money because they had flooded repeatedly. By elevating the low-lying area, how water moves will be changed, Erickson said.
The city said it has budgeted $2.5 million for flood mitigation, including three retention ponds and widening of the creek upstream.
In an attempt to partially weather the storm, the IDHS sent a letter to FEMA appealing to FEMA to rethink its decision to suspend the Hazard Mitigation Program for the entire state, which FEMA did in response its issues with Kokomo’s stadium construction. Over $6 million in funds are being withheld, funds which would help other areas prevent flooding disasters.
Erickson said FEMA has not responded to the letter, which was sent on March 12. He could not pin down a time by which he expects a response.
“We are taking the steps we are needing to to bring the Kokomo baseball stadium back into compliance,” Erickson said. “We don’t believe the rest of the state should be penalized for that.”
The Marion County Environmental Court will hear the suit and countersuit. A court date has not been set at this time.