PERU — Owners of six dams in a subdivision near Peru will no longer have to make major repairs after lawmakers changed the state code that removes jurisdiction over the structures from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR first sent letters in 2013 to more than 20 landowners in the Hidden Hills subdivision near Peru, saying they had failed to maintain the structures and keep them in good condition.
This led to a seven-year legal battle between the owners, the DNR and the Miami County government, which was responsible for the roads that crossed some of the dams.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ended up ruling in 2020 that the owners were fully responsible for maintaining the dam and the county was only responsible for the roads above them.
However, due to Senate Bill 269the DNR no longer has jurisdiction over the Hidden Hills dams, meaning the agency can no longer dictate how the structures are repaired or maintained.
Larry West, a former Miami County commissioner who owns property on one of the dams, said the cost of repairs under DNR regulations would have been $4 million. Now the maintenance costs will be around $100,000.
“We’re going to do what needs to be done, and not just satisfy a big DNR wish list,” West said.
Under former state regulations, dams fell under DNR jurisdiction if they met one of three criteria: the drainage area above the dam is greater than 1 square mile; the dam exceeds 20 feet in height; or the dam retained a volume of over 100 acre-feet of water.
The amended law now requires dams to meet two of these criteria to fall under MNR jurisdiction. West said the legislation aligns with nearly every other state.
He said the Hidden Hills dams are over 20 feet tall but do not meet other criteria set out in the amended regulations, meaning MNR no longer has jurisdiction over the structures. It also means the DNR loses jurisdiction of about 300 other dams across Indiana.
“The dams that this legislation helps are the small ponds that the DNR has completely overreacted to,” West said.
The law comes after West submitted a proposed change to Rep. Ethan Manning and Sen. Stacey Donato, who both represent Miami County. The bill was first approved by the Senate Natural Resources Committee and was approved last month with near unanimous support from the Senate and House. The law comes into force on July 1.
West said he first submitted his suggestions in 2018, but the House Natural Resources Committee did not vote on it due to the ongoing legal battle between the owners, the county and the state. State.
Now, with the changes approved, all Hidden Hills dam owners are breathing a “huge sigh of relief,” he said.
However, questions remain as to whether the DNR could end up imposing certain reparations.
The legislation states that changes to the law do not affect past inspections. West said they don’t know if this could provide a way for the agency to continue enforcing their previous inspections for 2013. He said that as things stand, they don’t expect the DNR to continue to pursue the competence of the dams.
“We don’t really know for sure,” he said. “We don’t think they will, but we could end up in court if they try to do something.”
West said the subdivision has the funds to make repairs to the dams now that costs have dropped dramatically.
He said Russ Bellar, who developed the housing addition in the 1990s, donated more than 45 unsold lots to the new nonprofit Hidden Hills Lake Preservation, which West founded during the legal dispute. . He said all proceeds from the sale of the land will help pay for maintenance and repairs to the dam.
The owners also form a conservation district that could tax residents in order to have a funding mechanism for future repairs or maintenance. West said if the donated lots generated enough revenue, the district might not have to approve new taxes.