Jim Jontz’s biography

Earlier this month I attended the annual Indiana Authors’ Fair at the History Center in Indianapolis.  I picked up a copy of a Ray Boomhower’s biography of Jim Jontz who served in the Indiana General Assembly for five terms beginning in 1974 and in Congress until 1992.  (The People’s Choice—  Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana)

Jontz’s first election victory was largely the result of his active opposition to an Army Corps-proposed destructive dam on Big Pine Creek in Warren County near Williamsport. He said later “I gave a damn about a dam”.  Jontz went on to represent Indiana citizens on many populist causes including the environment, labor, health care, and the elderly.

The Big Pine dam was first proposed (via an authorizing act of the Indiana General Assembly) in 1967.  In 1976 the Army Corps Louisville District recommended that the dam project be abandoned due to its environmental impacts and to its dubious claimed benefits. But it didn’t actually finally die until 1990 when the Army Corps formally de-authorized the project.

Jim Jontz died in 2007 at the age of only 55 from colon cancer.  His former wife noted that “his ultimate goal was to be a spokesman for those that couldn’t speak—the trees, the animals, the air, the water”.

Bloomhower’s book has much interesting history about the misguided dam proposal and about Jontz’s tireless work to expose it as a destructive boondoggle as well as his many other good works.

Tenet No. 24 of A Conservationist Manifesto by Scott Russell Sanders re defending the realm of shared public gifts

“Many of the places we care for will be public— state and national forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, parks.  We hold these riches in common, as citizens, and we need to defend them against those who seek to plunder our private lands, for the benefit of a few.  In an era obsessed with private wealth, private rights, and private property, we need to reclaim a sense of our common wealth— the realm of shared gifts, resources and skills.”

The gift of uninterrupted rivers

‘Tis the season for giving.  Below is part of Robert Hass’s introduction to The Gift of Rivers— True Stores of Life on the Water, 2000, edited by Pamela Michael of the International Rivers Network.  Mr. Haas is a former Poet Laureate of the United States.

“Rivers… have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  In between, they flow.  Or would flow, if we let them.  It’s interesting to consider the fact that, in popular culture, what’s happened to rivers has happened to stories.  A dam is a commercial interruption in a river.  A commercial is a dam impeding the flow of a story: it passes the human imagination through the turbine of a sales pitch to generate consumer lust.”

A free-flowing river keeps on giving, year after year.  Unless pro-dam politicians and commercial interests are allowed to get their way.

Input to Indiana Finance Authority regarding the Phase II feasibility study for White River dam and reservoir in Anderson, IN

The IFA has recently noted that the work scope for the Phase II feasibility study has not been finalized and that it is open to public input.  Hence the concerns noted below. 

The task of supplying input is made more difficult by our inability to obtain the Corporation for Economic Development’s application for funding and the IFA’s evaluation of the application, or more accurately, the IFA’s non-disclosure of these requested public records.  We do not know what was actually applied for and upon what basis the application was considered and approved.  If the application (and the draft scope of work for the grant agreement) is not disclosed to the public, the task of supplying input becomes problematic.   Nevertheless, our comments follow.

1.       The public consultation meetings which have been referenced in the media should be free of uniformed police presence and intimidation.  In the three “public sessions” conducted earlier this year by the CED, the police presence has been visible and intimidating to the public. This is an inappropriate use of the police power of the state.

These meetings themselves should be structured in a way that actually encourages open input, perhaps even pointed criticism of the plan, and avoids the usual techniques of control and suppression often employed by the proponents of the issue, who also have control of the meeting format.

2.      A feasibility study should include a detailed dam removal plan, because a reservoir can be expected to fill with sediment, lose capacity, and present a public safety hazard as its useful life and function come to an end.

3.       A feasibility study should fully evaluate the potential impacts associated with such a high-hazard dam, and identify an adequate protection plan for downstream residents.

4.     We cannot speak for Citizens Water (Indianapolis utility).  However, we can relay statements and apparent facts which should weigh, or should have weighed, in the decision about whether to fund the proposed feasibility study:

According to a Citizens Water corporate communications officer, no one from the State contacted Citizens’ management before the grant was announced concerning either the proposed study or the need/process for planning for future water supply.  Yet the Governor, in announcing the grant, emphasized a purported need for additional water supply for central Indiana as a principal publicly-stated rationale for committing the funds.

Considering, among other things, the increasing costs (rate increases) of water supply and treatment in central Indiana, and resultant affordability issues, it is possible that per capita consumption will continue to fall over time, as it has steadily over the past seven years, according to a company consultant.

Soon, the IURC will likely approve a new irrigation rate structure for Citizens Water customers which will substantially increase the costs of lawn watering (by eliminating the current volume discounts).  Thus it’s foreseeable that dry-weather draw downs from the various surface and ground water sources could decrease, thereby possibly reducing or even obviating the need for some new sources of supply.

5.      The case statement in opposition, dated October 17, 2013, by the Heart of the River coalition has previously been supplied to IFA.  It contains many additional concerns and potential impacts affecting feasibility and viability.  These should also be incorporated into the scope of work.

Submitted to the IFA by:

Heart of the River Coalition


December 13, 2013

Tenet No. 22 from A Conservationist Manifesto by Scott Russell Sanders

“In order to live, we must use the Earth— but we should not use it up..  For the sake of our descendents, we must learn to grow food without depleting the soil, fish without exhausting the seas, draw energy from sunlight and wind and tides.  We must conserve the minerals we mine and the products we manufacture, recycling them as thoroughly as a forest recycles, twigs, leaves, fur, and bone.”

Will the Army Corps be the eventual decider to nix or approve the dam plan?

According to research fellow Leonard Shabman of Resources for the Future, in the coming years, the U. S. Army Corps will likely be mediating the increasingly conflicting desires of water utilities and environmental groups and NGOs as climate change worsens, as is expected.   Shabman and several other researchers presented at RFF’s October 2, 2013 panel discussion regarding the future of U.S. water supplies.  Here’s the link:


His comments on the Army Corp’s role were made beginning at 65:00 minutes into the video.

The public trust relies upon good faith and ethical conduct by our state regulators who are charged with protecting our environment and thus our health and safety, as well as the habitats and welfare of other creatures in the Creation.  However, as a practical matter, it’s not difficult to envision a scenario in which the Anderson dam proposal is arbitrarily approved at the state level by IDEM (the Sec. 401 Water Quality certification) and the IDNR (the required permit for Construction in a Floodway).  Recent Indiana governors have exerted a tremendous amount of control over the decisions of their environmental professionals in the regulatory agencies as a matter of “friendly persuasion”— or more probably, command-and-control.  Their dutiful, appointed agency directors know how their bread is buttered.  They also know that resort to the courts by disappointed opponents is also problematic from both a financial and legal perspective.  Litigants must go up against the virtually unlimited legal budgets of the state of Indiana and private corporations.

We’ve heard numerous expressions of skepticism about the viability of the dam from some technical staff of the regulatory agencies (at both the state and federal levels). However, in the end, these people will be loath to fall on their swords by opposing the dam.  There will be great pressure to eventually go along with what the Governor directs.

To speculate a bit, irrespective of its feasibility and viability, Governor Mike Pence will likely push hard for the dam, just as former Governor Mitch Daniels pushed the new-terrain I-69, and just as he directed the then-DNR director, Kyle Hupfer, to approve the permit for the Center Properties’ floodway fill of White River at 96th Street in Fishers in 2007 to facilitate the development of a large retail mall.  (After 8 years of subsequent litigation by environmental groups and a recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by the developer in March, 2013, the big retail (now mixed-use) center remains unbuilt— 17 years after the site was rezoned in 1996 by the Town of Fishers).

The main responsibility for critically and objectively scrutinizing the dam/reservoir plan might well fall to the Federal government via its permitting authority under Sec. 404 of the Clean Water Act.  The scope of such review will remain to be seen. However, under the National Environmental Policy (NEPA) Act, it’s also required to consider alternatives to the proposed action.  Will the Anderson CED consider alternatives to its proposed dam?  Not very likely— a reservoir is what it’s gunning for because only that would address (but not satisfy) its main objective—which is economic development.  The public water supply purpose is mere window-dressing.

Dams as “museums of natural history disasters”

Stream ecologist Thomas E. Waters, Professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, wrote a great book:  Wildstream— A Natural History of the Free Flowing River, Riparian Press, 2000.  At 600 pages, he covers many subject areas including dams— for which he has no praise.  Here’s an exerpt:

“The number of dams on U.S rivers is staggering.  The number of dams over five feet in height was estimated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 75,000.  Smaller dams run into about 2 million; we don’t know exactly.  What is clear however, is the number of medium to large rivers, still free of dams is dangerously low, and that these few streams can be perceived today only as remnants, “museums of natural history disasters.”