Lafayette, WL candidates: Where they stand on LEAP pipeline plan
Candidates for mayor and city council on both sides of the Wabash River weigh in on the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s plans to tap-and-take millions of gallons of Tippecanoe Co. water a day
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LAFAYETTE, WL CANDIDATES: WHERE THEY STAND ON LEAP PIPELINE PLAN
It’s been hard to explain to people outside Greater Lafayette and a handful of communities up and down the Wabash River just how all-consuming the conversations have been around here about aquifers, pipelines and the consequences of taking tens of millions of gallons of groundwater every day.
The details are still sparse about a $2 billion pipeline and the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s tap-and-take plans to service industries in a 10,000-plus acre LEAP district near Lebanon and other water needs along a 35-mile route from the aquifer below farm fields a few miles downstream from Lafayette.
Taken from candidate Q&As and in extended interviews (coming soon) with candidates for mayor in Lafayette and West Lafayette on the Nov. 7 ballot, here’s a look at how they’re approaching LEAP district and water drilling questions that are dominating grocery aisle conversations across Tippecanoe County.
Lafayette mayor’s race
Tony Roswarski, Democrat
In a recent interview, Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski, running for a sixth term, was talking about things in the job that still felt new, already 20 years into being mayor.
“I’d say it’s the LEAP water situation,” Roswarski said. “I would have not anticipated that in 2023 we would be dealing with the potential transfer of millions and millions of gallons of water a day from the aquifer here in Tippecanoe County to Lebanon. … I would have to say that’s probably one of the biggest, all-time surprises over the last 20 years. That’s not something that anybody saw on the horizon.”
What’s the game plan, then? Here’s part of Roswarski’s take from that Q&A.
“I'm telling everybody that everybody needs to get involved, whether it's through your local government, through state reps, county and myself. We all need to get involved, because we're going to have to pull together as a coalition. And we're going to have to help that coalition to grow, up and down the Wabash River corridor and through the Teays River Valley area, to get more people involved, get the more legislators involved, to help us come up with a solution.
“Going forward, I am still very concerned, because I don't believe that testing has been adequate to this point. And people change, right? Administrations change. The leader of the IEDC will change. This is not just about now. This is about 100 years from now. And so we have got to get this right. And we can't let a short-sighted view rule the day in how these decisions are made. I mean, there was an extreme lack of transparency. I don't think even the IEDC can argue that. We have got to ensure that we get this right, either through legislation, being able to manage and control the size of the pipe or the flow of the water, or other efforts that might be even come from the Army Corps of Engineers and different things to ensure there's oversight from an environmental piece even that I think nobody has really looked into very deeply at this point.
“I plan to do everything I can to help continue to be a part of this discussion to help protect this community for decades and generations to come.”
Roswarski has been advocating for limits on the size of the pipeline to LEAP and other central Indiana communities along the route, as legislators look at potential legislation that would cap what anyone could take from one part of the state to another. Does the mayor think the pipeline plans are too far along to stop completely?
“I don't know if I'm too far down the road to think that it can't be stopped completely, at least temporarily, until we can understand better all the things involved, from the effects on wells of people that live in the area to the effect on the actual river to the effect on wildlife and the ecological systems that are involved from how the river and stormwater helps create wetlands. All of those things that could be impacted. So, I would at least like to see it stopped for a while to we ensure some of those things. I mean, we cannot ruin the lives of people in one area for the benefit of another area. That's just not the Hoosier way, right? That's just not the right thing to do. We have got to continue on.
“One of the things that sticks out to me, we asked, for literally months, what when you look at the testing, what parameters are you going to be looking for? What would be good numbers? What would be bad? How would you look at figuring that out? And we never could get an answer. And, now, all of a sudden when the first bit of testing is done, we hear, Oh, it's textbook. That's the terms we got: Oh, it's textbook – just the way you want it to come out. Well, if that's true, why didn't you show us the textbook before it started? That part doesn't feel right to me. It doesn't feel comfortable. It's hard to accept those results, when the process was managed in that manner.”
Benji Milanowski, Libertarian
Benji Milanowski, a public health nurse and a Ph.D. student at Purdue, is running what he’s called a campaign to get voters aware of third-party potential, including the Libertarian Party that nominated him to challenge Roswarski. Here’s what he said when asked about the proposed pipeline feeding the LEAP project.
“My take is that, obviously it's already been decided before it was even announced to us. I will always back the science. If the science says that the aquifer will refill at a reasonable rate and we're not going to lose out, then that's fine.
“Right now, my question is the only science that I've seen has been coming from those who are doing the LEAP project and not an independent geologist or other hydrologic sciences. So, I do question that. There's lies, damned lies and statistics. What statistics are we getting? Are we getting just those from the agency itself? Or is this actually the science? I'm pretty sure in the 1950s and ‘60s, there were tobacco scientists that were saying tobacco is pretty perfectly safe, but the rest of the scientists were saying no. So, I would like to see that.
“But if the aquifer can support it, then I'm actually not opposed to it, because it would bring industry. Now that said, I would rather see that industry come here to Lafayette, but that doesn't change the fact that they're still going to use that much more water. I see people argue, Why isn’t the industry coming here? Well, that still doesn't change, Can we still support that large of an industry or not? If we can, great, we should bring them here. If we can't, then it's a problem, regardless.”
Protest builds along IEDC pipeline front: West Lafayette City Council formally objects, calls for IEDC to cool down pursuit of Tippecanoe County water. GOP governor candidate Eric Doden, a former IEDC official, blasts the plan, too
West Lafayette mayor
Erin Easter, Democrat
Erin Easter, West Lafayette’s development director, announced her bid for mayor in late 2022, with a glowing endorsement from outgoing Republican Mayor John Dennis. The Democratic candidate, running unopposed on the Nov. 7 ballot, said listening sessions she held with residents in the spring were dominated by questions about housing in West Lafayette and the relationship between the city and Purdue.
“Just the two (listening sessions) I had this week,” Easter said, “we were talking about water first and foremost.”
Easter broke down several concerns she had about the pipeline idea.
“One is the relationship that we have with the IEDC. As a city person who works with them on economic development deals, it's absolutely fair to have some concern about the structure. This sets up, instead of having a partner who's walking along with us to now having somebody who's directly competing with us. And that should be a concern for any local community.
“The other concern that I have, and I would assume it shared by many, but in Tippecanoe County we do a really good job of maintaining strong relationships. And even when we have bad news or difficult things to say to each other, we have the trust already established, because we've been working together for years. We can call and say, Hey, I want you to know this is coming, I want you to be prepared for it. We can only do that because we trust each other. Right now, we're facing probably one of the biggest challenges that this community has dealt with in quite some time. We don't feel that same sense of trust right now with the IEDC. Because we're finding out news that should be disclosed to us first coming instead from a newspaper. And we're not getting clear answers consistently. There is not the transparency that there should be. …
“I think it's a challenge, too, because the structure of state power versus local power is a bit of a David and Goliath feeling. We're the little guy. … I don't know what to expect. It is one of those rare issues that there are a lot of options, but no clear path.”
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City council races
Candidates for the nine city council seats up election Nov. 7 on both sides of the Wabash River were asked this question:
What, if anything, should the city do about the Indiana Economic Development Corp.'s plans to build a water pipeline from Tippecanoe County to feed developments in Boone County and in communities along the 35-mile route?
Here were their responses. (* = incumbent.)
West Lafayette City Council
Aaron Abell, Republican: The state of Indiana has not provided nearly enough evidence that this pipeline will be anything other than an ecological disaster for West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County. I wholeheartedly support the council’s resolution condemning the project in its current state. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any action West Lafayette can actually take beyond raising awareness and supporting local state legislators in their efforts to protect our water resources.
Laila Veidemanis, Democrat: The city does not have the jurisdiction to stop this plan, but we can put enormous amounts of pressure to stop them from taking water from the Wabash.
Michelle Dennis, Democrat, unopposed: I should say that first, I’m not against the LEAP District in theory. I see the benefits it could bring West Lafayette and Purdue by providing a key anchor to the Hard Tech Corridor between West Lafayette and Indy. Nevertheless, I am confident that we — at the city or state level — don’t have enough data to support carte-blanche the proposed water pipeline. And, unfortunately, it’s a minefield when it comes to managing water resources in Indiana. I hope that the recent resolution passed by City Council shows the state that more research, planning and local engagement has to be done to effectively design LEAP and manage our water resources long-term. Depending on how cooperative the state/IEDC becomes, it’s also not clear what if any recourse the city has on this. It would be great for the city to find a way to have a seat at the table in these discussions and analyses moving forward.
Colin Lee*, Democrat, unopposed: I personally am against the plans for the pipeline, but to my understanding, the city does not have any real say in the IEDC's plans to build the pipeline. We can do our best to ensure that the opinions of the people are heard and be open to listen to possible solutions for the issue, but other than that, we do not have any control over the pipeline. The city may have to consider lobbying at the Statehouse to get the legislature or administration to assist communities like West Lafayette in protecting their natural resources.
Larry Leverenz*, Democrat, unopposed: West Lafayette and its citizens should keep a close watch on the development of this project. Transparency has not been a hallmark of the IEDC and this project, so we must make sure we know what is happening and when. Both the city and its citizens should be writing their legislators to let them know that the legislature doesn’t have the information needed to make an informed decision on the long-term effect and consequences of pumping millions of gallons of water out of the ground for the next 50-plus years. Bottom line, we need to keep talking as loud as we can about it!
Kathy Parker*, Democrat: This is an issue that has united people across the political spectrum in universal opposition. City Council just passed a resolution calling for a halt to the plan. I’m not sure if it will work since we don’t have any power with the IEDC, but it would be good to keep in touch with the folks who live near the wells to see how the new wells and pipelines are impacting them and their water. The Go Greener Commission could possibly undertake a project to study this proposal and predict a time when we would run out of water. At any rate, it’s important to support our state elected leaders as they try to mitigate the harm that is on the horizon assuming these plans go through.
James S. Waters, Republican: On the issue of the plan to build a water pipeline and send the water to another county. To start, I am firmly against it. I feel my reasoning is just and solid. I went to a meeting that was held on this topic and walked away very unhappy. No. 1. The numbers were presented were by the same company, not any independent. No. 2. They start by saying they would only pump about 2 million gallons a day, yet there is no limit. For extra sales they could pump millions more for as long as they wish. No limits were written in. No. 3. A few of the adjoining property owners did report issues already with their water during the test runs of the water while it was being pumped for the test. No. 4. When asked how would they get all that water delivered to the county who is buying it, their reply was that was not part of their study. So whose land will they try to cut across, maybe using eminent domain? No. 5. When other companies that could have picked West Lafayette to start a new plant they could hear about all the water being pumped out of here and maybe show a sign of concern. Will there be enough for our plant? Our company? That could mean West Lafayette would lose the chance for more jobs and possible increase in tax dollars for the community.
Jeff Brown*, Republican: I endorsed and voted in favor of the resolution against the pipeline, as adopted by the West Lafayette City Council in its meeting on Oct. 2, 2023. Further study and collaboration with stakeholders are essential, and state-level legislation may be required to ensure appropriate impact consideration. Key factors to consider are the environmental effects, infrastructure capacity, long-term consequences and increased community input. Our decision should prioritize the welfare of all Tippecanoe County residents.
Stacey Baitinger Burr, Democrat: This hot button conversation illustrates that all stakeholders need to be in the conversation and do the homework about sustaining the long-term security of plentiful water access. We should:
Insist on project transparency, involve experts, and unbiased data collection to understand the ability to support unknown future water demands.
Require IEDC to assure that potential industries also invest to minimize their impact on the water supply and power grid. The LEAP district conversation is currently focused on water, but the Indiana power grid may also have challenges in supporting demand.
Work with state elected officials to put water rights legislation in place during the next session to assure local involvement, extraction capacity guardrails and shared resource policy.
If water extraction happens, a financial benefit should come back to this area to reflect our contribution to economic development in other parts of the state.
At-large (three seats)
Iris O’Donnell Bellisario, Democrat: Water is the lifeblood of our community, and ensuring a clean, reliable and safe supply is non-negotiable. We've seen the consequences of water crises in other parts of the country, and we cannot afford to be complacent. The water pipeline proposal from the IEDC is an increasingly concerning development. The city should work to express their disapproval of this development and work to negotiate with the IEDC, taking into consideration the limitations within what is in the cities purview.
To safeguard our water supply, I pledge to invest in modernizing our water infrastructure. This means repairing and upgrading our aging pipelines, improving water treatment facilities and embracing sustainable practices to protect our water sources. Furthermore, we must be vigilant in monitoring water quality, ensuring that our residents have access to safe drinking water.
James Blanco*, Democrat: I'm opposed to the project. The concerns throughout the community, voiced so well at the September public meeting, are genuine, and it’s obvious how little the IEDC has even attempted to reach out to those affected. Because of this, I'm proud to have cosponsored Resolution 22-2023, which publicly states our community’s opposition to the project. It passed unanimously at our October council meeting. Additionally, I will support organizing efforts to oppose the project.
Patrick Flannelly, Republican: Balancing the rights of local control, long-term water security and economic prosperity is a complex challenge. Water, in particular, is the most valuable resource any community must have and protect. We need transparent, collaborative decision-making that respects the principles of democracy and harnesses economic opportunities for our community. We must safeguard our residents' interests while balancing them against the potential benefits of this project for the community, state and nation.
We must continue to insist on a third-party, comprehensive environmental impact assessment and hydrological studies to determine the potential effects of this proposed pipeline project. Currently, we don't have enough, if any, good information to make decisions. Concurrently, we must insist that our state representatives complete legislation establishing regulatory guidelines for Indiana that will protect our natural resources and provide independent oversight of any public or private project requiring water access.
Just like in my experience as a police officer, sometimes cases unfold unexpectedly; the important thing is to remember that there is always a way. We must keep working on the problem. Our community has some of the best and brightest minds in the world; we will find a solution.
Brian Russell, Republican: I applaud the current council for their resolution opposing the pipeline. If I was elected, I would have voted in favor of the resolution, as well. We need to do everything in our power to slow this process down so that we can get as much information about the water supply as possible. I’m not sure if the city can ACTUALLY stop it, short of people chaining themselves to the pipe. Do we have the authority to halt construction? Would a cease and desist work? I don’t know. What I know is that determining the amount of water in an aquifer seems, at best, to simply be an educated guess, and if the calculations are off, it could have DISASTEROUS consequences to our community. To me, that means we need to slow the process down and make sure the data is as accurate as possible. An IEDC-sponsored study seems like the tobacco growers providing a study that cigarettes don’t cause cancer, i.e. self-serving.
David Sanders*, Democrat: I have been a leading the opposition to the pipeline project, which is designed to remove tens of millions of gallons of water from the Wabash/Teays River aquifer and transfer it for industrial use in the LEAP district in Boone County. It is a good illustration of how I engage in public service. I solicited input from the community. It was evident that opposition covered the entire political spectrum — this is true of many of the positions for which I have advocated. I was supplied with many suggestions and documents and conducted extensive research using my skills a scientist. I authored a resolution declaring the opposition of the West Lafayette City Council to the pipeline focusing on the lack of foresight in the project, its secrecy and the harmful effects on Tippecanoe County. I found a cosponsor for the resolution and discussed it extensively with Mayor John Dennis and future Mayor Erin Easter with both of whom I consult on a regular basis. A citizen at our city council made a good suggestion for an amendment to the resolution, and I moved that we adopt it. The amended resolution was passed unanimously.
Lafayette City Council
Jerry Reynolds*, Republican, unopposed: Did not respond.
Eileen Hession Weiss*, Democrat: The city of Lafayette will work to inform our constituents and to assist our legislators in passing legislation that would put processes and laws in place to help safeguard our community. We are also going to pursue an independent review of the findings. We will work diligently to try and influence the size of the pipe should it be built. The ultimate decisions live with the state of Indiana and the state legislature. Everyone needs to be contacting them with their concerns.
Mary Fisher, Republican: Did not respond.
Perry Brown*, Democrat, unopposed: Did not respond.
Lauren Ahlersmeyer*, Democrat: Protecting and preserving our city’s supply of clean and safe water for all residents is essential and I will fight to ensure the long-term sustainability of our community. I think the addition of this pipeline, and the transfer of this significant amount of water, will have far-reaching ramifications beyond what anyone anticipates. Additionally, the environmental impact of the displacement of water on wildlife and residents along the pipeline route will be significant. The city should continue to listen to the concerns of the impacted residents while doing all it can to challenge the placement of the pipeline.
Josiah Eller, Libertarian: This is exactly why I cannot stand big government. Why should people outside of Lafayette be deciding where our water goes? The correct answer is they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, this is the nature of government. Lebanon’s Mayor Matt Gentry says they cannot provide the water currently, so the answer is currently, you shouldn’t be allowing people to build something if you cannot provide water. Instead, the government is essentially going to try stealing water from our community. Lafayette should take every single legal means necessary to protect our water resources.
Melissa Weast-Williamson*, Democrat, unopposed: Did not respond.
At-large (three seats)
Kevin Klinker*, Democrat: This is certainly a concern local public officials have been watching closely. There doesn’t appear to be a tremendous amount of information from the IEDC, and I hope that improves. I support a study and better communication from the IEDC to ensure the aquifers will recharge appropriately and not negatively impact our region and our ability to grow.
Nancy Nargi*, Democrat: At present there are no laws that regulate this situation, so it is important that we work with our legislators to address this problem, continue to have constant conversations with the IEDC, and encourage public input on this topic.
Steve Snyder*, Democrat: Did not respond.
ABOUT THE NOV. 7 MUNICIPAL ELECTION
WHERE TO VOTE AHEAD OF NOV. 7: Early voting started Tuesday, Oct. 24. Here are the times and locations. Voters should bring a valid ID.
8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 24,-Friday, Oct. 27: Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette.
8 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Oct. 28: Clarks Hill Christian Church, 9510 Pearl St., Clarks Hill.
8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 30-Friday, Nov. 3: Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette
Noon-6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 2-Friday, Nov. 3: West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.; Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, 1406 Teal Road, Lafayette; First Church of the Nazarene, 3801 Union St., Lafayette.
9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4: West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.; Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette; First Church of the Nazarene, 3801 Union St., Lafayette.
8 a.m.-noon Monday, Nov. 6: Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette.
ELECTION DAY POLLING PLACES: Polls will be open 6 a.m-6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7. Registered voters in Tippecanoe County may use any vote center.
West Lafayette Wellness Center, 1101 Kalberer Road
Faith West Community Center, 1920 Northwestern Ave.
West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.
Evangelical Covenant Church, 3600 S. Ninth St., Lafayette
Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, 1406 Teal Road, Lafayette
Northend Community Center, 2000 Elmwood Ave., Lafayette
Christ United Methodist Church, 3610 S. 18th St., Lafayette
First Church of the Nazarene, 3801 Union St., Lafayette
Gathering Point Church, 7201 Wesleyan Drive, Dayton
ON THE NOV. 7 BALLOT: Get a full list of candidates here.
CHECK YOUR VOTER REGISTRATION STATUS AND THE CANDIDATES ON YOUR SPECIFIC BALLOT: Go to the Secretary of State’s portal at www.indianavoters.com.
Thanks, again, to Purdue’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, presenting a free showing of “The Price of Progress: The Indiana Avenue Story” on Nov. 14 at Stewart Center’s Fowler Hall. Get more details and free tickets here.
Thanks, also, to Food Finders Food Bank, preparing for the 13th annual Drive Away Hunger Fall Food Drive, Nov. 1-Dec. 1. To find out how you, your school, church and business can help, go to: www.food-finders.org/dah.
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