Holcomb makes water moves but will it be enough?

November 17, 2023 7:00 am

Gov. Eric Holcomb is trying to bail out a controversial water pipeline but moving the study to a different state agency. (Getty Images)

The feud over water is heating up, and Gov. Eric Holcomb this week tried to tamp it down by shifting a water supply study from the Indiana Economic Development Authority to the Indiana Finance Authority.

Is it too little, too late?

For months momentum has been building against a proposed pipeline and Holcomb’s actions late Monday seemed urgent after relative silence for weeks as lawmakers, gubernatorial candidates, local government and Hoosiers spoke against it.

The pipeline would run about 35 miles from the Wabash Alluvial Aquifer in Tippecanoe County to the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District in Boone County. About 100 million gallons a day could be pumped through the pipeline.

Intera is conducting a $2.9 million study and initial results show plenty of water.

Not surprisingly, people concerned about the project are suspect of a contract paid for by the IEDC that reinforces their grand plan. And they have a lot of the line. The agency has already spent more than $200 million buying up land in Boone County with hundreds of millions more to come.

Indiana Secretary of Commerce David Rosenberg, who leads the IEDC, said the district currently has all the water needed for the ongoing Eli Lilly development and most other possible projects.

“Only if Indiana is selected by a company with a large water need would a pipeline be considered,” he said in a recent op-ed.

In June, the state confirmed it is a finalist for a $50 billion semiconductor company. A decision is expected late this year.

Which might be why Holcomb suddenly jumped in the fray. Perhaps the plant wants to sign on the dotted line but needs assurance on the water front.

Next steps

So, let’s look at what he did.

A lot of people are learning what the Indiana Finance Authority is this week. It’s an agency that oversees State-related debt issuance and provides financing solutions to facilitate state, local government and business investment in Indiana.

It has been involved with other transformational projects, like leasing the Indiana Toll Road and overseeing financing of the new Indianapolis Colts stadium.

They have studied water issues since 2017 and all of their studies can be found here.

‘Abundant’ water in Wabash aquifer for LEAP District, say early IEDC findings

I don’t quibble with their abilities and expertise. But in the end, the water study is still part of an IEDC contract — despite Holcomb suddenly bequeathing “exclusive oversight” of it to another agency. And the IFA is still a state agency controlled by Holcomb, just like the IEDC.

The state should have moved for a truly independent contract first, perhaps a local research institution. And it should have split the cost between state and communities impacted – Lebanon and Lafayette as well as Boone and Tippecanoe counties — then everyone would feel like they have some ownership.

And by the way, no one seems to be rallying around the Boone County residents fighting against it. Only the concerns of the Lafayette area whose water is being raided seem to have captured sympathy from the public. Boone County’s elected officials seem to be all in despite local concerns.

Holcomb’s pipeline move doesn’t appear to be allaying fears so far.

Sen. Spencer Deery called for a pause in “any action or contract that would push the state even further down the path of this pipeline proposal” until an independent study was done and state lawmakers could consider pipeline costs, regulations on water withdrawal and even reforming the IEDC.

Sen. Ron Alting said he continues to have concerns for the overall project.

And they are both Republicans from the Lafayette area.

The project should have been laid out in detail first with the full scope and costs stated up front — before the state started buying up land. Now they are stuck moving forward even if the project doesn’t attract the investment they were hoping for.


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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.