Q&A: Lebanon mayor, ‘behind enemy lines’ on LEAP pipeline
Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry isn’t shy about touting a controversial water pipeline plan and calling out what he thinks is politically motivated opposition in Tippecanoe County. A Q&A.
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Q&A: LEBANON MAYOR, ‘BEHIND ENEMY LINES’ ON LEAP PIPELINE
Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry says he knows where he stands in and around Lafayette.
“I've never been invited up there, for sure,” Gentry said. “And I don’t expect I will.”
Gentry, a 2012 Purdue graduate elected this month to his third term as mayor of Lebanon, hasn’t been shy in recent weeks about defending an ongoing tap-and-take water study into Tippecanoe County aquifers along the Wabash River. He’s jumped in and riled the comments sections of Facebook pages dedicated to pushback on a water pipeline concept that would send tens of millions of gallons a day to the LEAP district developments in Boone County.
His take: Groundwater available in Tippecanoe County is likely going to be robust enough to not only support massive, shovel-ready developments envisioned for the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District, but also will be an inevitable solution for other parts of central Indiana that studies say will be short on water by 2050.
Gentry’s stake: His community along Interstate 65, about 30 miles south of Lafayette, is looking at the potential for thousands of jobs in a spot that has known for more than a decade it doesn’t have sufficient water to make this sort of huge development work on its own.
On Wednesday, Gentry talked at length about why he’s all-in on LEAP; why he thinks opposition in Tippecanoe County and up and down the Wabash River is to be expected; why Greater Lafayette officials should have seen this coming and may have politically driven motives for joining the protest; and why he believes the pipeline idea is bound to happen at some point, whether or not LEAP comes together like state officials hope.
And why he’s become the heel in this saga – at least in Tippecanoe County.
The backdrop for the conversation was provided by a couple of newsy items this week:
On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb surprised everyone by shifting the review and completion of an ongoing study by INTERA, a Texas-based firm drilling and testing high-capacity wells near the Granville Bridge area in Tippecanoe County, from the IEDC to the Indiana Finance Authority. He also called for a regional water study, including Tippecanoe County and 12 others, to be done by fall 2024. Details here: “Holcomb takes LEAP pipeline study from IEDC, reassigns it.”
On Tuesday, Tippecanoe County commissioners unveiled a proposed ordinance that would put a nine-month moratorium on high-capacity radial collector wells – like the ones being contemplated to pull as much as 100 million gallons a day from Wabash River aquifers – and on exports of more than 5 million gallons of water a day from wells in the county. Commissioners say they hope that buys time to slow LEAP pipeline until the General Assembly can consider legislation in spring 2024 that would address mounting concerns about the massive water transfers being studied. That measure will be considered Monday: “County mulls moratorium to slow LEAP plans.”
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Question: First off, what do you think about the shifts that the governor made? How did you read what he said?
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