The Indiana Department of Homeland Security announced Friday it would take legal action against the city of Kokomo over its baseball stadium project.
The move comes a day after IDHS announced the Federal Emergency Management Agency had informed the state that FEMA was suspending Indiana's ability to access the hazard mitigation grant program since several parcels of land used in Kokomo Muncipal Stadium remain out of compliance with use restrictions.
City Director of Operations Randy McKay said in a statement issued Friday, “We firmly dispute FEMA’s assertions that the eight parcels in question are not in compliance. We believe that the redesign plans are fully compliant with the deed restrictions placed on the parcels; that is why we filed suit against [Indiana Department of Homeland Security] on January 26."
Now IDHS plans to counter, said spokesman John Erickson.
"Kokomo has filed against us, so we are going to court, but that was our original intention," Erickson said. "They simply filed before we did. But the overall goal is still the same. That's to bring the properties back into compliance."
The city says it stopped building on the eight parcels in question when the IDHS issued its original cease and desist letter on Nov. 24, 2014, noting the violations. The city filed suit against the IDHS in late January.
The city purchased those eight parcels in 1999 with the help of grant funds from FEMA. Documents state the grant stipulates written approval must be obtained from FEMA before building on such land takes place if the project is not within the grant guidelines. The grant language says “ball fields” are within the grant guidelines, which city officials argue Kokomo Municipal Stadium fits within.
Erickson explained the parcels were purchased with 75 percent FEMA funds, and as a condition, the parcels must remain in "open space." If not open space, the entity must receive prior approval from FEMA for alterations, Erickson agreed.
However, "FEMA has ruled that didn't happen," Erickson said. "It's because of fill [dirt] and because of concrete and other issues with the parcels."
The city has attempted to submit revised plans for the stadium.
“FEMA has not provided the City of Kokomo with any actionable, specific instructions for how to align the design with their demands," the city's statement said. "We have offered several alternative designs yet they provide no guidance for how we can address their concerns. They offer no explanation for their position.
“We are in continued talks with IDHS regarding this issue and our related lawsuit. We know the state understands the overreach of the federal government; Governor Pence and his departments have actively fought, or filed suit against, federal government overreach on the Affordable Care Act, Immigration Reform, Education Policy and other issues. IDHS has indicated a willingness to concur and support Kokomo’s position in recent discussions.
“We are evaluating FEMA’s current position and are open to discussing what change, if any, is needed to the project in order to bring finality to it. This political and bureaucratic interference may cause a delay, but we are committed to completing Kokomo Municipal Stadium.”
The City of Kokomo said IDHS approved parts of the project and issued permits late in the summer of 2014 to American Structure Point, the project designer.
The city also said it sent a letter to IDHS saying the city had heard rumblings there might be an issue with the project. At that time, the city requested a meeting to resolve any problems there might be.
The IDHS did not respond to that letter for 90 days, during which time other parts of the $9 million project were approved and construction began.
The IDHS said there is currently about $5.5 million in mitigation grant funding which will be affected by FEMA’S decision.
“The suspension may also extend to future disaster funds and the National Flood Insurance Program as related to the Kokomo project,” IDHS said in a statement. “The rest of the state is still eligible for future disaster grants and the National Flood Insurance Program.”
Erickson wanted to emphasize IDHS is talking about the entire state being affected.
"That makes it a much larger concern," he said. "We're certainly looking for quick remedies, but these things take time. ... FEMA's goal is to bring those parcels back into compliance, which would return them to their original state."
The Kokomo Jackrabbits are expected to begin the home portion of their inaugural Prospect League season on May 30.
"We're still planning on being ready to go May 30, even after this developing news," said Van McNeil, Kokomo Jackrabbits Public Relations Director.
City officials said no further statements or interviews regarding the subject would be granted due to ongoing litigation.