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Indiana farmer fighting plan to install two ponds for road work

BROWNSBURG, Ind. — A Hendricks County farmer is fighting a county plan to construct two retention ponds on his property as part of a road extension project.

The four-mile extension of the Ronald Reagan Parkway from County Road 600 North to County Road 1000 North won’t go through Mike Starkey’s 2,500-acre operation west of Indianapolis. The proposed retention ponds, however, will take up about 10 acres of his property and render the area in-between – another 25 acres – useless, he said.

The proposed extension is part of a larger project designed to eventually connect Interstate 70 to the south with interstates 74 and 65 to the north. So far, nearly 12 miles of the Parkway have been constructed from I-70 to CR 600, just north of I-74.

Starkey isn’t only concerned about the loss of his farmland. The retention ponds could negatively impact a $4.5 million water monitoring project put in place seven years ago on his farm. The project is in partnership with several organizations, including the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the Hendricks County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The project allows for 24/7 water monitoring. Starkey grows corn, soybeans, wheat and hay and also raises a few cows. The farm is 100 percent no-till.

“The data we’re getting from the project is an outstanding opportunity to educate and share with others information on the type of farming I’m doing,” he explained. “With the ponds, this project could go down the tubes. The overall goal is, as a farmer, I don’t want to be told how to farm. This type of farming is benefiting water quality and protecting our soil.”

Starkey is the fourth generation of his family to farm the location. His nephew and that man’s son are the fifth and sixth generations. While he was aware of the pending road extension project, he didn’t realize the potential impact to his property until December 2017. He came home and found stakes in a field.

“That was the first time I knew about the placement of the ponds,” Starkey noted. “We knew about the road, but the ponds came out of nowhere.”

The ponds will be about 400 feet from the road extension and separated from each other by about 450 feet, he said. A third pond is planned across the road on land he doesn’t own.

The ponds are necessary to help control drainage into nearby School Branch Creek, a legal drain, said John E. Ayers, the county’s engineer. “When you put in a new road, there’s extra pavement, extra hard surfaces,” he explained. “We want to detain and control how fast water goes into School Branch so it isn’t overwhelmed.”

The Parkway’s purpose is twofold, Ayers said. “There’s been a lot of residential growth in the last 10 to 20 years, and also commercial growth. The road will help handle residential traffic and also allow for more commercial growth.

“It will also help with traffic movement. There’s not much currently west of Interstate 465 for efficient traffic movement,” he added.

The already completed portion of the Parkway was paid for with local, state and federal funds, he said. Construction on the four-mile section will begin once funding is secured.

The county Drainage Board will meet August 14 and is expected to consider plans for placement of the ponds. Starkey hopes the board will side with him and waive the pond requirement. Ayers sees the board as having three options: approve the current plan, ask for changes to the design or waive the ordinance requiring the ponds.

He said the project could go on without the ponds if the ordinance is waived. All the water from the roadway would then go directly into School Branch, with no control over how much or how fast it enters the creek, he said.