Photograph from Concerned Citizens of Johnson County
Contrary to what are known as "best-management practices" for preventing water pollution, the Johnson County surveyor plans to clear trees from the banks of the Canary Creek around Franklin. Requests for public hearings on the matter have been ignored so far by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
On July 13 Clarke Kahlo said in a letter to Sarah McKeown, Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), Louisville District, "In 1996, I attended a '2016 bicentennial visioning conference' sponsored by the Indiana Environmental Institute among Indiana regulators, educators and environmental activists. Dr. James Gammon of DePauw University (now retired) called for 'greenbelts along every stream' as a partial solution to Indiana's relatively poor condition/performance in terms of greenspace and water quality. His succinct prescription stuck with me, and I repeat it wherever it might be useful to encourage riparian preservation and restoration."
A Indianapolis grassroots environmentalist, Kahlo requested that ACE hold a public hearing to discuss the work the Johnson County surveyor intends to do on Canary Creek, which runs through city of Franklin about 25 miles south of Indianapolis.
One person who's taken to heart the need for "greenbelts along every stream" is Kahlo's friend and Franklin activist Gary Moody, of Concerned Citizens of Johnson County. He's spent months agitating for the proper treatment of natural streams in Johnson County that ACE has designated "legal drains" for agricultural runoff.
"The federal government gives a lot of money to the state of Indiana to do things that are exactly the opposite of what guys like our county surveyor are doing." - Gary Moody, Concerned Citizens of Johnson County
Moody is at odds with the Johnson County surveyor, who's worked on numerous county streams and has set his sights on Canary Creek. The surveyor's aim has been the opposite of constructing greenbelts along those streams: he's been clearcutting trees along the streams, dredging and channelizing the streams, and applying riprap, or stones, to hold the banks in place. The riprap does a poor job of securing the denuded banks and requires periodic maintenance because the stones gradually wash away.
The work the surveyor did last summer on Little Sugar Creek was done without a permit. In fact, the surveyor's practices in Johnson County are at odds with state and federally recognized "best management practices," Moody said.
The streams' well-being is tied to the trees and other vegetation along their banks, Moody said, and he is fighting for the streams to be left in their natural state and damaged ones restored.
"The federal government gives a lot of money to the state of Indiana to do things that are exactly the opposite of what guys like our county surveyor are doing," Moody pointed out. Through the Soil and Water District of Johnson County, the federal government, represented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pays homeowners whose property creeks run through to plant trees along the creeks to restore the environment, while the county surveyor is cutting trees down along the streams. "That's the most egregious example," Moody says, of the "two forces" doing contradictory work.
The reason for the surveyor's pursuit of "ditching" the streams rather than leaving them alone, Moody asserts, is money. Homeowners pay, along with their property taxes, a "ditch fee" if their property is in a "legal drain" watershed. "By doing all this unnecessary and in fact destructive work," Moody says, "it's an opportunity to spend that money."
Moody says the money "keeps rolling in every year," keeping the surveyor and his staff employed and spreading the money around to the contractor who does the jobs. The surveyor's "legal drain maintenance" contracts are supposedly offered for bids, but in the 20-odd years he's been in office, he's given all the jobs to one family-owned business in Rush County. It's a "good-old-boy" system, Moody said, insisting the surveyor's "destruction of the environment is an act of corruption."
"No decision has been made at this time on whether a public hearing will be held." - Sarah McKeown, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Moody requested a hearing by the EPA and ACE but hasn't gotten very far. He's gone all the way to the EPA's deputy administrator for help and has had no response from the surveyor's office. He appealed to ACE because EPA delegates to ACE some work attached to the Clean Water Act, and the agency supposedly has the expertise to handle this matter. However, Moody claims that ACE has a history of doing what he's complaining about but on a larger scale, such as on the Mississippi river. "ACE," Moody says, "still has that culture and mindset despite reforms of its goals in recent years."
On July 17 Moody sent a petition with 28 signatures requesting a public hearing to ACE Project Manager McKeown. In a July 28 reply, she wrote, "Regarding the status of your public hearing request and concerns regarding the USACE Public Notice process, please refer to the paragraph in my July 20 letter that states:
"'No decision has been made at this time on whether a public hearing will be held. If a hearing is held, you will receive a public notice announcing the date, time, and other arrangements 30 days in advance of the hearing.'"
As for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration has "gutted and corrupted" it, Moody says. The Daniels administration, he asserts, "has an ideological stance of antienforcement of anything that protects the public."
Moody is trying to make Canary Creek and Little Sugar Creek a "banner issue." His "ultimate goal is to reform the Indiana drainage code." In that case, the environmentally destructive work would halt. Any money gleaned from ditch fees could be used to improve and restore streams; that would result in better water quality and in more swimming, fishing and other activities on the waterways.
Moody's always trying to get other people involved, but, he says, "They don't care, can't be bothered or would rather complain and do nothing." The nonprofits he's appealed to for help, he says, "want to talk about things in the abstract" vs. dealing with concrete situations, though he's gotten some tips from them. He's trying to involve such organizations as American Rivers, which are directly concerned with waterways and fishing.
Moody hasn't given up, though he's going at it pretty much alone. He says, with good-natured resignation, that he does work that "nobody else is paying attention to."
Linda Greene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.