A flood-mitigation plan that called for the area adjacent to Wildcat Creek -- where Kokomo is building a new baseball stadium -- to remain greenspace led one politician to involve state and federal authorities.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent letters to Kokomo on Nov. 24 informing the city of construction violations pertaining to eight parcels of land near the baseball stadium project.
The city is required to keep those spaces open through the Hazard Mitigation Program, the letters state. However, construction in that area has been ongoing for months.
A letter from Center Township Trustee Jean Lushin informed the Indiana Department of Homeland Security of the violations, according to IDHS spokesman John Erickson.
“Prior to that letter, we did not know that those parcels were regulated through a federal grant,” said Erickson. “We would not have known of the violations without the letter.”
When asked about his involvement, Lushin stated government agencies have been involved with the land since 1999.
“No one has to tip them off,” said Lushin, referring to IDHS. “They have been aware for some time about what is going on.”
Lushin also said he had been in touch with FEMA for many years about the flood-prone area.
Lushin said the majority of his concern stems from an inter-local agreement made between the city and the township in 1999. The agreement consisted of a plan to turn the area where the baseball stadium is being built into a single greenspace.
“Even though we helped to turn the area into a greenspace, no one consulted us about the baseball stadium,” Lushin said. “Our names have been all over the paperwork associated with that area. If there is a lawsuit, will we be liable? There is more at stake than just eight parcels.
“Our concern from the get-go has been about our liability,” Lushin said.
The city was given 60 days to correct the violations in a letter dated Nov. 24.
IDHS could file a lawsuit, which could also lead to Indiana losing millions of dollars in FEMA grant funds, the letter stated.
“We are currently looking for options to work this out," Erickson said. “When the area is no longer a greenspace it is not in compliance with the agreement.”
Mayor Greg Goodnight said the city has stopped working on the parcels in dispute.
“Until we get this issue resolved, we have stopped work on those lots,” he said Saturday. “We believe when you look at and take the agreement in its totality, we are in compliance.”
Goodnight also disputed the number of parcels in question.
“We’re only talking about lots that would be parking,” he said. “What we’re talking about is three or four small parcels out of 100 parcels of land and [FEMA] can’t provide the documentation on those parcels. Those other lots have nothing to do with the grant.”
Kokomo Common Council member Bob Hayes said while it is good to have people watching to ensure the city's activities are lawful, he was also confident the issue would be resolved.
“There are those who are using this as a political hockey puck,” Hayes said. “These efforts are counterproductive when we had a unanimous vote to build the baseball stadium.”
Lushin criticized the city's efforts at informing the public about its plans.
“As far as I know, there has never been a public hearing about if the public wants or needs a new baseball stadium,” he added. “The public has not been a part of this at all.”
Hayes disputed those claims, stating the public had ample opportunity to comment.
“I remember having public readings about the construction and no one voiced any concerns,” Hayes said. “Anyone who didn’t know what was going on was living in a vacuum.”
The baseball stadium project is in an area that experienced significant flooding in 2003 and 2013. After the 2013 flood, the city purchased the properties in the flood-prone area.
“The original intent was a greenspace and that would have been a great retention area,” Lushin said. “However, when you put a structure in a floodplain, something has to happen to the water. The ballpark will be in danger of becoming flooded.”
There is a strong possibility the whole ballpark is in violation of flood ordinances, Lushin stated.
Hayes stated while he is not a civil engineer, the stadium includes a great flood mitigation plan.
“We are going to have a good baseball stadium that includes safety measures like retention ponds,” Hayes said. “This situation will help people downstream.
“We expected to have a few bumps in the road, but we are going to have a baseball stadium,” he said. “It is going to improve the quality of life in our community."