Last week I spoke with Jim McGoff, the IFA’s director of environmental programs. He is the lead official overseeing the recent $600,000 grant to the Corporation for Economic Development for the conduct of a Phase II feasibility study. The grant was approved by the IFA’s board, but is not final and not yet signed. IFA is working on preparing the scope of work for the study. And IFA has indicated that it would accept public input for the next couple of weeks on the scope of the study. He has already received a copy of the coalition’s case statement (and rationale) in opposition to the reservoir.
Mr. McGoff initially said the allocation is a grant (rather than a loan, which had been previously reported in the media). A few days later he referred to it as a “forgivable loan”.
In response to my question about the evaluation criteria used to assess the application, he said the application (feasibility study) represented a “unique situation”. It is “not your standard project and didn’t fit into a box”, and that there appeared to be “positive benefits” associated with the completion of additional feasibility study. He said the funds will come from a “state supplemental fund” (not an EPA funding pot), which he described as having evolved from the former Build Indiana Fund. This is the fund which the legislature abolished a dozen or more years ago due to widespread fraud and abuse.
The Indiana General Assembly originally authorized the Build Indiana Fund as being intended only for “essential public projects” related to public health and safety, as I recall, but it didn’t take too long for shenanigans and abuse to occur. One such abuse was a wasteful project on the Central Canal in Broad Ripple. The Indianapolis Art Center, the Indianapolis Greenways office, the Broad Ripple Village Association, and then-State Senator Theresa Lubbers “partnered” to conclude that a $104,000 turtle sculpture was an appropriate use of BIF funds. When that, and other, egregious abuses were publicly exposed, the BIF program was soon abolished by the legislature.
I requested a copy of the CED’s application and the IFA’s evaluation documents used to qualify the study for funding. After several requests, Mr. McGoff responded in an email as follows:
“.. all of that information will be included in the exhibits to the Grant Agreement that is currently in the drafting/signature stage. I can get you copies of all the information as soon as it is fully executed.”
Unfortunately, the IFA apparently doesn’t want the public to see, and possibly object to, the basis upon which its decision to give $600,000 to the CED was made. This is starkly contrary to the philosophy of open government which the legislature has set forth in its Access to Public Records Act.
It appears that the Phase II feasibility study application has been determined to be a “unique situation” and thus readily, if not seemingly arbitrarily, approvable. When agency officials declare certain activities/applications to be “unique”, and thus not subject to the prescribed eligibility criteria and evaluation tests, they create doubt in the minds of the taxpaying public as to whether the rules and the law are actually being followed.
It has been posited by several close observers that the efforts by the CED and some state public officials to promote an outdated reservoir idea is yet another attempt to ensure endless, and thus unsustainable, growth of the central Indiana area. Will public water supply, land availability, self-imposed discipline by policy-makers, or other factors determine the extent of future growth? If the sustainability of the water supply is uncertain, isn’t that telling us something important about the desirability of future unlimited growth?
“The frog doe not drink up the pond in which he lives.” Inca proverb