INDIANAPOLIS — A proposal for generating $5.7 million a year to reduce flooding on the Kankakee and Yellow rivers in eight Northwest Indiana counties is being crafted by the Senate Local Government Committee.
House Bill 1270 was amended Thursday to require counties pay an annual fee, starting in 2020, to a reconstituted Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission, based on how much land in the county drains into those rivers.
Alternatively, the legislation permits the counties to impose a special assessment on each parcel of property in the river basins.
The maximum allowable assessment is $2 per acre for farmland, $15 for a residential parcel, $75 for commercial and $360 for industrial or utility.
State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, said he expects Lake, Porter, Newton and possibly Jasper counties have enough money through their drainage levy to make their contribution to the flood control effort without imposing a new assessment on property owners.
He said he hopes officials in LaPorte, St. Joseph, Starke and Marshall counties likewise could find existing revenue to meet their obligations, and apply the special assessment only as a last resort.
Led by state Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, members of the Republican-controlled committee raised numerous questions about the flood mitigation fee and special property tax assessment, prompting state Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, the chairman, to postpone a final vote on the revised legislation until further changes are made, possibly next week.
"It's moving pretty fast for this kind of a mandate. Essentially, it is a mandate, pay up or else," Bohacek said. "So it's just giving me a little bit of consternation."
Niemeyer said last year's devastating Kankakee River floods that overtopped flood walls, surrounded homes with water and required the temporary closure of several highways demonstrated the need for stepped-up flood prevention efforts on the Kankakee River.
"This river has to be addressed," he said. "It's filling in with sediment, the banks are eroding. We had a serious problem last summer that took thousands of acres out. It took a state road out, and it keeps getting worse every year."
In January, the House voted 97-0 to shrink the state commission overseeing the river to nine voting members, from 24, and to require the member appointed by the commissioners of each county to have experience in construction, project management, flood control or drainage. The ninth member is to be selected by the governor.
The new commission would have exclusive authority to implement drainage and flood control activities within the channels of the Kankakee and Yellow rivers, including 75 feet from the top of each river's bank.
An independent study is underway to identify potential flood control remedies for the commission to undertake, in cooperation with other state and federal agencies, using the flood prevention contributions required of the eight counties under the legislation.