Efforts are underway to build a massive, multi-billion dollar research and industrial park near Lebanon, Indiana.
But as the project has grown, questions from both residents and those responsible for neighboring towns have been raised about what the project will look like – and what kind of resources it will require.
Brian Daggy is a homeowner in Boone County who is increasingly concerned about the proposed county’s movement toward his home.
A neighbor’s property is just behind the fence surrounding Daggy’s backyard. He says it was recently purchased as part of a proposed annexation that will place Daggy’s home right next to the city’s Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace, or LEAP, district.
The district is currently said to be between 7,000 and 10,000 hectares and home to a variety of industries. So far, only Eli Lilly has announced its plans for a more than $2 billion manufacturing facility.
The state is in the process of buying up real estate all over the area. The city of Lebanon annexes these spaces and plans to bring them to the LEAP district. Daggy harbors no ill will for his neighbors who have decided to sell. But he worries about his own future as he plans to retire here at his home not far from his grandchildren in Indianapolis.
“You’re always thinking about what your perfect place would be, and that hit enough boxes that we were pretty happy with it,” he said.
But now he wants to know what’s planned for the LEAP district – to make sure he can handle it.
“If they plan to create a green park area around some of these, maybe that’s something we can live with and be happy with,” he said. “We just don’t know. It’s the unknown factor that really annoys people. The state just wasn’t transparent about that.”
Daggy is part of the Boone County Preservation Group, made up of community members who have organized against the LEAP district. Some, like Daggy, just want more clarity on what’s going to happen to the land around their property. Others want to stop the project immediately. Daggy admits he doesn’t see it.
“You can’t stop progress – we understand that,” he said. “What we would like to see is that they are transparent. Talk about what the plans are, let’s make our own.”
When asked to comment on transparency issues, Indiana Economic Development Corporation chief operating officer and chief of staff David Rosenberg said in a statement that the Lebanon project is “at a very early stage.”
“Some may recognize that it is so [the project] way down the road,” he wrote. “But in reality we are just beginning and working closely with the commissioners and the community as things develop.”
That view was shared by Lebanese Mayor Matt Gentry, who said he didn’t understand how some community members were reacting to news about the project. From Gentry’s perspective, the city was transparent.
“That’s where I’m a little frustrated,” he said. “They know literally the day it happens, but they accuse us of not being transparent about the information we’re releasing.”
Gentry said complaints about transparency resonated with him because his parents live in the county likely to be affected by the development.
“My parents live in the area,” he said. “I’m not throwing these people to the wolves. We’re trying to figure out what works for everyone.”
These answers are still not enough for Daggy. He points out that there are questions beyond what could be placed in the district — including how the project will be watered.
“It seems to me like they’re just moving on without giving much thought to what the impact is going to be and how they’re going to address all these issues,” he said. “It’s not a good way to make a development.”
The water question
Daggy isn’t the only one wondering how Lebanon’s industrial area intends to manage its water supply.
Up in Lafayette, a 45-minute drive north of Lebanon, the community has begun inquiring about details of water use — particularly the possibility of water being diverted from Tippecanoe County into the Lebanon area.
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarksi said he was concerned by some reports it could be as high as 100 million gallons a day. For comparison, a million gallons of water could fill a swimming pool roughly the length of a football field.
“That raised eyebrows,” Roswarski said. “100 million gallons a day is considerably more than I thought it would be, and I’m not sure anyone but God Himself can tell you if you can pump 100 million gallons a day without affecting anything.”
According to state officials, Lebanon is in a region with “long-term water availability” concerns. That poses a problem for the types of research, technology, and manufacturing industries the city hopes to attract.
Roswarski said he was not against economic growth – but he was protecting the water in the region. He said whatever plans come about, he will ensure regional leadership will be part of the decision-making process.
“I think we need to look at our regions — as a whole state, how do we make sure we have adequate water supplies for everyone?” he said. “Not just driving from one place to another, which could end up harming not just that area, but a whole other region around it.”
But Lebanese Mayor Matt Gentry said when it comes to water, individual counties cannot own it.
“Water is a government resource,” he said. “As long as you don’t disadvantage your neighbors, you can use the water for your needs.”
That’s doubly true, Gentry said, because he believes the LEAP project in Lebanon will help everyone when it’s completed.
“It’s not just about Lebanon,” he said. “It’s not just about Indianapolis. It’s about the whole state and what we’re going to do in the future.”
When asked for comment on the state’s water-use plans, the IEDC’s David Rosenberg said it was “too early to confirm details,” but “there are several options on the table.”
Jack Wittman, senior water supply analyst for the LEAP project in Lebanon, agreed to answer written questions about which methods are being studied. According to Wittman, the state intends to source water from the Wabash Alluvial Aquifer, which connects directly to the Wabash River. Exactly how much is drawn there is still being investigated.
“The total has yet to be determined, we are currently conducting hydrogeological studies to determine sustainable yield for high-yield wells along the river,” Wittman wrote. “The final amount will be determined after these studies have been completed and confirmed by various government bodies.”
Once the studies are complete, Wittman said the state will use this information to identify key locations for well placement.
“This data will be used to arrange the well Minimize long-term impacts on other water users [emphasis Wittman’s],” he wrote.
Wittman also noted that construction of a pipeline is “some time away” as the state conducts a water study and evaluates the engineering and design for this project.
Loring Nies, a professor of environmental and eco-engineering at Purdue University, said he’s puzzled that the state doesn’t have a clear picture of how much water it needs to use for its studies.
“It seems to me like — how can you do a study if you don’t know how much water you’re going to take out of something?” he said. “Someone has to have a suggestion because they’re planning an industrial development with companies that need water, and the companies know how much water they need.”
Nies said the big question that needs to be investigated is how removing water from the aquifer might affect the Wabash River.
“The ecology of the Wabash River is really important to the state,” he said. “We have many native species that are in danger of extinction, we even lost some mussels – we need an ecological assessment in addition to a technical assessment.”
Like Mayor Roswarski, Nies emphasized that he was not against economic development – but wanted to be sure that the LEAP project was designed with long-term water sustainability in mind.
According to Nies, Indiana, as a state, is water-rich. He said the LEAP project in Lebanon could be an opportunity for the state to really assess the water resources it has – and how best to use them.
“We don’t have a good picture of how heavily we already use our water resources,” said Nies. “Unless you understand this well, it’s easy to think you can expand economic development as if the water supply were infinite — when in fact, that’s not the case.”
“Show me a card”
Given the concerns, state and local officials associated with the project have repeatedly stressed that the project is still in its early stages.
Lebanese Mayor Matt Gentry said he understood the desire for a final, full plan in advance.
“We are in the first year of a project that could take more than two decades to build,” he said. “As with everyone in this situation, you want to – ‘What’s the final plan? Where will the streets be? How will this happen? Show me a map I can look at.’ It does not exist.”
Gentry said the project is still subject to change, so the city has been open about what it knows.
“I’ve been trying to explain this to members of the community for months,” he said. “It’s still in the early stages, it’s still evolving. Again, this is subject to change depending on market demand… it’s not like every “i” is dotted and “t” crossed out. They want that level of definition, and when I say it doesn’t exist yet, they think we’re hiding something.”
“I understand there is uncertainty and they want more clarification and definition,” Gentry added. “But they also have to accept that if we tell them the truth about what we have and what we don’t have, we won’t lie to them.”
Brian Daggy said at his Boone County home he believes the state and city don’t have a clear picture — but wants them to understand that community members like him face an uncertain future.
“My wife, Peggy, and I have been talking about how at our age — Peggy is retired and I am at the age where I could — if we have to move, we don’t have to wait another five years to do it,” he said.