State Sen. Jim Buck’s, R-Kokomo, emergency legislation, which would allow the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to issue a cease and desist order to stop work on Kokomo’s baseball stadium project, was passed by the Environmental Affairs legislative committee today.
Buck says the bill will protect the state from any financial restrictions placed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) if the project’s issues are not resolved.
“We want to show FEMA that we are doing everything we can do,” Buck said. “We want to protect the state from any strong action. FEMA has made it clear they will take away federal funding, and we cannot allow that to happen.”
Buck expects the bill to pass the Senate on Thursday and the House of Representatives early next week, he said.
“I hope that we can get this bill through the Senate and the House and then have Gov. Pence sign it into law by the end of the month,” Buck said.
The FEMA and the IDHS sent letters to Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight on Nov. 24 informing the city of construction violations on the baseball stadium project.
"We think we have been in compliance since the beginning of the situation," said Goodnight. "We have had strong communication with IDHS and FEMA, and we've even explained how this project will mitigate flooding in the area."
Both the IDHS and FEMA threatened to take action if the city does not correct the violations within 60 days.
In the letters, FEMA said it may “seek to enforce the terms of the grant by withholding State and/or local mitigation assistance.”
While eight parcels of land have been called into question, Goodnight said all but three of those parcels were originally planned to be kept as green space or turned into a parking lot.
While a parking lot could be deemed to be noncompliant, according to IDHS spokesman John Erickson, Goodnight said the city has not begun construction on the lot.
"We have not laid down any asphalt in those areas," Goodnight said.
However, Erickson said Kokomo is still not in compliance and IDHS will re-evaluate the situation on Jan. 27.
The city has not been informed of the Jan. 27 re-evaluation deadline, said Goodnight.
Erickson declined to comment on whether IDHS would issue a cease and desist order if Kokomo does not come into compliance.
“We are still discussing the situation,” Erickson said. “We are not looking to impede development, but if the city does not come into compliance then we will find a way to enforce the regulations.”
Erickson said enforcement could include taking the city to court.
The city has submitted two corrective action plans, both of which have been evaluated by IDHS and forwarded to FEMA, according to Goodnight.
"We have submitted the plans, and no one has told us there is anything wrong," Goodnight.
Goodnight also noted that while IDHS officials were present at the committee meeting, they chose not to speak in support of Buck's bill.
Kokomo was represented at the meeting by Barnes and Thornburgh attorneys Heather Willey and Tim Haley, who said construction has stopped on the parcels that were required to stay 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.
Buck disputed Kokomo's claims by stating that construction is further along than the city will admit.
“The city’s assertion that construction has stopped on all of the parcels is only partially true,” said Buck. “Construction has been completed or close to completed on multiple parcels, which is a concern.”
Buck presented the committee with a map detailing the location of the parcels and the construction that already has taken place.
Buck referred directly to parcel 3, where current plans place the positions of second base, shortstop and left field, and parcel 4, which is the location of center field and right field.
Goodnight questioned Buck's assertion that the two parcels were in violation of the deed restrictions.
"No one has told us that the middle of the baseball field does not constitute green space," said Goodnight.
If the parcels are deemed to be green space, they would be compliant with the deed restrictions.
"There are multiple parcels that the city is going to have to do a lot of work on," Buck said. "There will need to be a large amount of cleanup."
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-District 4, challenged Buck during the committee meeting by saying she doesn’t feel as if the sky is falling.
“It depends on whose sky is falling,” said Buck. “The people of Kokomo have literally had the sky fall on their heads before, and I don’t want to see the same thing happen again. And I don’t want people asking me when I knew there was an issue if something were to go wrong.”