IEDC oversight bill advances, while bills limiting large water withdrawals stall

Wabash River

Wabash River taken at Fort Quiatenon near West Lafayette, Indiana. (Credit: Johnny Jupiter/Flickr)

Feb 02, 2024

The Indiana Senate approved a bill on Thursday increasing oversight over the Indiana Economic Development Corp., amid concerns of how the state agency has handled the LEAP Innovation and Research District in Lebanon. 

The legislation, which passed by a 44-5 vote, now moves to the House for consideration. 

Senate Bill 295 would add two members of the Indiana General Assembly to the IEDC’s governing board as non-voting representatives, and would require the IEDC to notify a county or municipality before it purchased land that exceeded 100 acres. 

Had the bill already been enacted previously, it would have changed how the IEDC proceeded with the LEAP District, a 9,000-acre tech hub in Lebanon. The IEDC’s handling of the LEAP district has been criticized from the beginning. 

The state began buying up land for the project years ago — well before some local Boone County leaders and the general public knew about plans for the district. 

Plus, Tippecanoe County leaders and residents are worried about the IEDC’s plan to draw potentially tens of millions of gallons of water from the Wabash Alluvial Aquifer for the LEAP District. The IEDC has emphasized it will take water only if studies show a large withdrawal won’t impact other water users, and it would be involved only if the agency attracted a large water-using company to the LEAP District. 

Lawmakers are also optimistic that having House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray appoint two non-voting members to the IEDC’s governing board would increase the agency’s level of transparency. 

Sen. Spencer Deery, R-West Lafayette, called the bill “an important first step.” 

“With large funding and great power come great responsibilities, and greater expectations for transparency and accountability,” said Deery, a co-author on Senate Bill 295. “Otherwise trust erodes and support for economic development dwindles.”

Some Democrats voted against the bill because the minority party was not given any appointments to the board. 

While SB 295 is advancing, a pair of identical bills limiting the IEDC’s ability to move large amounts of water won’t move this legislative session. House Bill 1305 and  Senate Bill 249 didn’t get a hearing before the deadline to pass bills out of committee.

Language from the bills could still be amended into other legislation before session ends in mid-March. 

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