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Committee to weigh in on permit to remove low-head dam in Southern Indiana this month

Aprile Rickert
A committee will weigh in this month on the permit to remove a more than 100-year-old low-head dam in Southern Indiana.

A committee will soon consider whether a permit to remove a low-head dam in Southern Indiana complies with state statute. The dam’s removal, part of the overarching plans for Origin Park, has been in dispute for more than two years.

A committee with the Indiana Natural Resources Commission will hear oral arguments Nov. 14 on whether the permit and application to remove the Providence Mill dam complies with state statute.

Elizabeth Gamboa, chief administrative law judge with the Natural Resources Commission, issued a nonfinal order in August granting a motion for summary judgment filed in March. Her ruling confirmed that the permit was issued appropriately. The committee will make a final ruling at this month’s hearing.

In 2021, The Indiana Department of Natural Resources granted the permit to remove the dam to EcoSystems Connections Institute LLC.

ECI is acting as a contractor for River Heritage Conservancy, which is overseeing plans for the more than 400-acre Origin Park.

RHC wants to remove the dam to make it safer for recreational paddling along the creek, which feeds into the Ohio River.

Soon after the permit was granted, the City of New Albany filed a petition for administrative review to stop the removal.

New Albany argued that there’s a lack of evidence to support approval of the permit, including about how the removal would impact fish and wildlife.

Some city officials have also said they want the dam preserved for historical and recreational reasons. New Albany recently completed Silver Creek Landing, a paddling launch spot near the dam.

The city has proposed alternatives to full removal to make the dam safer.

Judge Gamboa included in her conclusions of law in August that the permit shall be granted if “the applicant has clearly proven” the proposed activity will not:

  • Adversely affect the efficiency of or unduly restrict the capacity of the floodway.
  • Constitute an unreasonable hazard to the safety of life or property.
  • Result in unreasonably detrimental effects upon fish, wildlife, or botanical resources.

Kent Lanum, chair of RHC’s board of directors, said he was pleased with Gamboa’s decision and that he’s “looking forward to that day that we can move forward with what seems like a logical conclusion.”

Daniel McInerny represents RHC’s contractor ECI in the matter.

“We think the order is completely appropriate,” McInerny said. “The application and permit do comply in all respects with the Indiana Flood Control Act and this is the right decision.”

The City of New Albany has objected to the ruling, arguing in part in court records that ECI lacks authority to have applied for the removal permit, which they say is not valid.

They also say the judge did not take all relevant information into consideration.

New Albany City Attorney Shane Gibson said in an email to LPM News that the city “disagrees with the conclusions reached by the administrative law judge in this matter” and that certain evidence was excluded by the judge.

RHC is currently seeking a new CEO, and Mayor Jeff Gahan said the city is looking forward to meeting with them to “move forward with discussions to preserve our city asset that has served the people of New Albany well for over 100 years.”

“The historic dam serves the citizens of New Albany by providing protection against flash flooding,” he said. “It also preserves our water supply for local wildlife during periods of drought. The dam also maintains water level so people can enjoy fishing and canoeing for more days throughout the year.”

The state’s Natural Resources Commission Administrative Orders and Procedures Act committee, which will hear oral arguments on the matter at 2 p.m. Nov. 14., has the authority to consider objections by parties, modify the nonfinal order and issue final orders.

If the permit to remove the dam is upheld, the City of New Albany will still have an opportunity to appeal.

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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