PERU – A Marion County judge has ruled Miami County is on the hook to repair six deteriorating dams located in a housing addition near Peru, after the Indiana Department Natural Resources found significant deficiencies in the structures.
The ruling, issued last week, comes after the owners of the dams in the Hidden Hills subdivision asked the judge to overturn a decision by the Indiana Natural Resources Commission, which determined the DNR had the authority to require both property owners and the county to fix the dams.
The DNR sent out letters in October 2014 telling the more than 20 landowners they had failed to maintain the structures and keep them in safe condition. The letter was also sent to the Miami County Board of Commissioners.
Since then, the property owners and county have fought the decision, arguing the dams don’t meet the specifications that would put the structures under the jurisdiction of the DNR.
But last week, a Marion County judge upheld the decision by the resources commission the DNR does have that authority.
However, the ruling came with a major change.
The judge overturned the previous ruling that both property owners and the county were partially responsible for the dams, and determined the county is now fully responsible for repairs.
That’s because all six dams have roads running over them, which were accepted into the county road system.
“The County accepted the duty to maintain the roads when it accepted the roads into the county highway system,” Judge P.J. Dietrick wrote in his ruling. “This maintenance also includes the responsibility to maintain the structure upon which the roads were built.”
Larry West, a Miami County commissioner who also owns property on one of the dams, said the ruling is good news for property owners in the housing addition, but bad news for the county.
He said no firm price has been set on how much it will cost to repair all the dams, but one engineering company estimated it could cost between $750,000 and $1 million to bring the structures up to state code.
That’s why commissioners will vote whether to again appeal the decision. The Miami County Council Tuesday approved $15,000 to pay for legal costs if commissioners do decide to appeal.
“As a county resident and county commissioner, I’d certainly support appealing it,” West said. “I know some of my neighbors might not like that, but I’ve got to follow my conscience and do what’s in the best interest of the county.”
He said, although the judge has ruled the county is fully responsible for fixing the dams, some deficiencies cited by the DNR already have been repaired, thanks to a fund set up by Russ Bellar, who developed the housing addition back in the 1990s.
Bellar has donated 11 lots in the subdivision to a new nonprofit organization called Hidden Hills Lake Preservation, and any profits made from the sale of the land will help pay for dam maintenance and repairs.
West said three of those lots have been sold, and they have spent $16,000 of that money to make repairs to two of the spillway shoots. He said there is still around $38,000 left in in the fund to make other repairs.
“Something had to be done with the dams, and these repairs seemed like pretty obvious ones to make,” West said.