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Indiana judge denies temporary block to low-head dam removal in New Albany

Aprile Rickert
An Indiana judge has denied an emergency motion to temporarily block removal of a low-head dam in Silver Creek in New Albany.

A judge with the Indiana Natural Resources Commission has denied a motion to temporarily block removal of a low-head dam in New Albany.

The City of New Albany challenged the more than 100-year-old dam’s removal from Silver Creek in June 2021, days after the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a permit to EcoSystems Connections Institute, LLC.

EcoSystems is contracted by River Heritage Conservancy (RHC), the nonprofit overseeing the upcoming Origin Park in Southern Indiana.

RHC representatives have said the dam’s removal is necessary to ensure safety for recreational paddling. Phase one of Origin Park includes a roughly five-mile “blueway” on the creek. Low-head dams can present danger in certain water conditions, trapping swimmers or boaters.

But the City of New Albany doesn’t want to see the dam completely removed. Officials cited environmental, historical and recreational concerns in its petition for administrative review filed 18 months ago.

In October, they filed a motion “for immediate and emergency stay of activity” to remove the dam.

The city presented arguments specifically as to whether the permit was improperly granted, and whether the dam’s owner was notified or included in the permit application. The city has brought into question who owns the dam.

City officials have said they want to explore alternatives to a full removal that would make the dam safer. Mayor Jeff Gahan said in a statement to LPM News he hopes those overseeing the park will reconsider the removal.

“We will continue to reach out to Origin Park officials to discuss the wonderful options available,” Gahan said. “We can improve the safety of the dam, allow for better canoeing and fishing, and take steps to reduce pollution – and we can achieve all of this without Origin Park officials destroying the dam. We can preserve our history in New Albany and improve access to Silver Creek for our residents, all with no cost to Origin Park officials or their park located in Clark County.”

At a special meeting last month, the New Albany City Council unanimously passed a resolution to meet with RHC representatives for mediation to the dam’s removal.

Following the meeting, RHC issued a statement declining the meeting.

“River Heritage Conservancy has always welcomed and provided many opportunities for the City of New Albany to engage on this project despite what is implied within this resolution,” it reads, in part, adding that as a non-party to the appeal, RHC “does not see a need nor a benefit from entering into mediation" with New Albany, EcoSystems and DNR.

New Albany has also already invested in ongoing plans to redevelop the area for recreational use, including paddling on the creek.

Oral arguments in the motion to stay were held Nov. 22, and the parties — the City of New Albany, EcoSystems and DNR — filed post hearing briefs earlier this month.

The order issued Monday denying the motion for the stay reads, in part, that the city hasn’t presented evidence showing it is likely to prevail on the merits of the case. A final hearing on the permit is scheduled for April 23.

New Albany’s arguments included that EcoSystems is required to get certain local approval before the dam can be removed.

Daniel McInerny, an attorney representing EcoSystems, said in an email to LPM News that the permit “has been, and remains, in full force and effect.”

He added that the contractor “is committed to complying with all applicable federal, state, and local requirements necessary for the removal of the dam.”

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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