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New Albany files lawsuit to prevent removal of low-head dam in Silver Creek

Aprile Rickert
The City of New Albany has filed a lawsuit in Floyd County seeking to block removal of a low-head dam in Silver Creek.

The City of New Albany has filed a lawsuit in state court to try to block removal of a low-head dam in Silver Creek. The dam’s removal is part of overarching plans for the 430-acre Origin Park in Southern Indiana.

The lawsuit lists River Heritage Conservancy Inc. — the entity overseeing plans for Origin Park — and EcoSystems Connections Institute LLC, the RHC contractor that applied for the initial permit to remove the dam.

It was filed Tuesday, the same day a committee with the Indiana Natural Resources Commission heard oral arguments on the matter. The committee ruled in agreement with an order issued in August in which a judge found the permit complies with state statute.

In the filing this week, attorneys for the city say RHC and its contractor want to “remove the dam for their own purposes, without having secured the dam owner’s approval and without properly applying for local permits and licenses pursuant to the city’s ordinances.

The city asserts in the filing an ownership interest in the dam and that it “has not consented to any removal activities.”

The attorney representing the city asks the court for declaratory judgment including establishing ownership of the dam — which has remained in question — and whether the defendants can enter the property and remove the dam without certain city authorizations.

They also ask for a preliminary and permanent injunction in the case.

New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan said in a statement Thursday announcing the lawsuit that the city “will protect the functional, recreational, and historical value of this site.”

“Removing this dam can harm the functions that it currently serves, including providing water supply during times of drought and flood protection during periods of heavy rain,” he said in the statement. “It will also hurt the recreation provided by the dam, reducing the number of days suitable for fishing, kayaking and swimming.”

Gahan added that “the people of New Albany deserve to have input before a local site is destroyed by out-of-county entities.”

RHC leaders have said the dam’s removal is necessary to make the waterway safer for paddling along Silver Creek, as part of park plans. But they’ve also previously said this piece won’t impact the overall project.

Spokesperson Vern Eswine said Thursday afternoon they hadn’t yet been served the lawsuit, and wasn’t ready to comment on it until they are.

But he said RHC will continue to focus on the park and on “what has been proven is best for the environment and habitat.”

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources granted the permit to remove the dam in 2021. Soon after, the city filed a petition for administrative review to stop its removal.

Between that petition and other public statements, the city has cited historical, recreational and ecological concerns. Officials argued in the state proceedings that there’s been a lack of evidence to show how the removal would impact fish and wildlife, and say the permit was not appropriately issued.

The state committee voted 3-0 in its Wednesday decision, affirming the judge’s order that the permit follows state statute.

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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