By Lesley Stedman Weidenbener
The Indiana Senate yesterday rejected two efforts to limit the ways that small sewer companies created by private developers can use eminent domain to acquire easements on neighboring land.
The Senate voted largely along party lines with Democrats supporting the measures and majority Republicans generally opposing them on two amendments proposed by Sen. Connie Sipes, D-New Albany, who is frustrated by the actions of developers in Floyd County.
"I'm asking you to take a stand on protecting people's property," Sipes told her colleagues yesterday. "It is sacred to them."
But Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, said yesterday that the Senate shouldn't be using the eminent-domain bill to solve local problems. No vote on the full bill was taken.
Sipes had two proposals:
- The first would have prohibited private sewer companies that planned to have or had fewer than 500 hookups from using eminent domain or the taking of private land for their plants or infrastructure.
- The second would have required private developers that are building sewage plants to gain approval from county commissioners before applying to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management or the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to provide sewer services.
The amendments were offered to House Bill 1010, which restricts government's ability to seize land from one private owner to give to another private owner for development. The Indiana Department of Transportation is exempt.
As passed by the House, the bill included a provision similar to one of Sipes' amendments that would have stopped the use of eminent domain by small sewer companies. But that language was removed in a Senate committee.
In Floyd County, residential developers are using or have threatened to use the state's eminent-domain law to try to bury sewer pipes on private land.
Sipes told the Senate that although her proposals were spurred by situations in Floyd County, they would not have affected them because the measures are not retroactive.
Instead, she said, the amendments were meant to protect landowners in the future.
"This is not about Floyd County," she said. "This is about protecting land."
But opponents said yesterday that making it more difficult for developers to build sewer plants could be bad for the environment because it would encourage them to use septic systems or other disposal methods that are less reliable.
Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, said the sewer language offered by Sipes should be considered in a separate bill that could be debated in a committee. But there's no time left for that this session.
"I think there is a role for IDEM, a role for the IURC and a role for the local Board of Zoning Appeals," Gard said. "But it's difficult to figure that out at second-reading amendment" stage of the process.
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