Another potential roadblock has arisen for Kokomo’s $11.5-million baseball stadium project.
State Sen. Jim Buck (R-Kokomo) filed emergency legislation that would allow the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to issue a cease and desist order to stop work on the project, which Buck says will allow the state to protect itself from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"Right now, FEMA is threatening the state with a loss of federal dollars if this baseball stadium issue is not resolved, and we need to confront the situation," Buck said. "I don't want people asking me about when I knew there was a problem when it becomes too late to do anything.
“FEMA is the lynchpin,” Buck added.
The legislation, Senate Bill 100, is scheduled for a hearing Monday morning in the Environmental Affairs legislative committee.
If Kokomo were to violate the potential legislation, the city could face a fine or a Class A infraction, according to the proposed law. The city of Kokomo issued a response authored by Kokomo Corporation Counsel Beth Garrison.
“The City of Kokomo questions the necessity of SB100 and believes that the provisions, regulations and protections implemented and controlled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency sufficiently address the concerns raised in the proposed bill and prohibit a political subdivision from unilaterally acting in such a way to jeopardize the State,” Garrison said.
Garrison went on to question whether the bill could pass the General Assembly.
“The City of Kokomo further questions whether the bill could potentially undermine or diminish a political subdivision’s due process rights, given the vagueness of the language set forth,” Garrison said. “As such, the city believes such legislation is superfluous and trusts the General Assembly will act accordingly.”
A Class A infraction basically gives the state the ability to place a heftier fine upon the city, Buck said.
IDHS and FEMA sent letters to Kokomo and Mayor Greg Goodnight Nov. 24 informing the city of construction violations on eight parcels of land that are part of the baseball stadium project.
The city is required to keep those parcels open as green space, per deed restrictions put in place by the Hazard Mitigation Program. Kokomo accepted funds through the program to assist in purchasing the parcels.
The letters stated Kokomo has 60 days to come into compliance. If the city is unable to meet requirements, the state could be at risk of losing federal grant dollars and IDHS could pursue legal action in court, IDHS said.
“Until we get this issue resolved, we have stopped work on those lots,” Goodnight said on Dec. 13.
The violations include the placement of concrete and the location of a dugout, according to IDHS spokesman John Erickson.
“While Kokomo has yet to bring the properties back into compliance, the city has submitted additional documentation in an effort to satisfy requirements,” Erickson said.
The documentation has not been evaluated, added Erickson.
Buck said he is not sure if IDHS will choose to issue a cease and desist order, but he wants to protect the state from the possibility of losing FEMA funds.
"We all hope the baseball stadium can be completed so we can go watch some games and eat some hot dogs," Buck said. "But if it is going to be at the expense of FEMA money, then you tell me if it is worth it.”
Due to the high occurrence of natural disasters in the state, no part of Indiana can afford to lose FEMA funds, Buck said.
Buck said he spoke with City Engineer Carey Stranahan and Goodnight, and he feels many individuals are struggling with inexperience.
“FEMA seems reluctant to work anything out because it is so unique for a circumstance to be this extreme,” Buck said. “Everyone has been flying blind.”
The bill also states that it will protect Indiana property owners from becoming "ineligible to purchase insurance through the federal flood insurance program."
"This bill goes beyond the baseball stadium,” said Buck. “I have watched too many people set stuff on the curb after their homes have been ravaged by floods. People need to always be able to have flood insurance."