Waterways discussion continues amid rising frustration


BRETZVILLE — Representatives of state and federal agencies that regulate waterways like ditches admitted that the permitting process for clearing or repairing those waterways is cumbersome.

But, they said, it has to be done to comply with state rules.

Local landowners, contractors, farmers and officials met for a second time with representatives of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Tuesday morning at the Dubois County 4-H Fairgrounds. About 200 local people attended to get clarity on how the state agencies interpret state laws — particularly, the Flood Control Act of 1946 and the Clean Water Act of 1974.

The regulators explained the various permitting processes, and the different scenarios that would call for a permit, of which there are many. Those wanting to do work in the ditches and waterways on their property should check with all three agencies, as each agency has its own regulations and permits.

Several in the audience questioned why the regulators are coming in now to regulate practices that have been done for generations.

“We’ve always had a presence in Dubois County,” said Toby Adams, environmental manager with the DNR. “It’s just that recently, we’ve had projects that came up that we noticed. That’s basically how we got here. We got calls about concrete going on banks, and we came and checked it out.”

“If we didn’t do this before,” he said later in the meeting, “that is our fault.”

As the three-hour meeting progressed, the questions asked of the representatives showed the confusion and frustration those in the room were feeling. And the differences seemed to be focused on how the state rules are being interpreted.

“I think we have different sets of goals,” one farmer told the regulators. “I think some of your goals are the protection of the fish and wildlife in the wetlands. Our goals are to protect the top soil, and to protect our farmland. I don’t know of anybody in here that has gone in and spent millions of dollars to try to redirect a creek. They’re just trying to protect what they have, and protect their farmland and preserve their top soil. Soil conservation has been ingrained in us forever, and that’s all we’re really trying to do.”

Another meeting may be held to continue discussions. Also, people can talk to their legislators about the rules if they believe the rules and interpretations need to change, Adams explained.

“This has been a good thing. The public awareness has been made. Now, we need to work together,” landowner Daryl Schmitt of Jasper said at the end of the meeting. “There is frustration in this room, and frustration in other counties. The frustration level is building to where it’s turning more into an adversarial relationship with you guys and us. And it should not get to that level. We should be working together.

“We are trying to protect our property for future generations and to produce food for everybody in the world. And it’s like we’re getting our hands tied. And that is the frustration.”

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