I have spent the last year looking at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website, and I find it very confusing, with many non-ag-friendly terms. I can show you in detail.
A farmer must evaluate the project that maybe meets three criteria, but not all five requirements. From a practical standpoint, how many operators want to apply for a government permit, which takes many hours, and pay $200 to $300 for the permit?
Plus, you must notify every neighbor by certified mail for approval and wait. Based on my experience, there may be multiple calls to state officials with questions on things that just aren’t clear in farmer terminology on the website.
In some cases, a fish and wildlife study may be required in the permitting process. You may need to hire an engineering firm. If you’re lucky, you may get a permit in four to six months, and it’s all for two days’ worth of work on the actual project.
It’s not just me. Other farmers and landowners I’ve talked to are finding out that their county and small town building and zoning offices are required to monitor farm operations for drainage work permits. Conservation officers are authorized to do the same thing.
I’ve interviewed many county zoning officials, and they just shake their heads. Activists who don’t favor farmers can call DNR with anonymous complaints about trees or owls, and farmers can’t respond and don’t get to know who they are. This is a slippery slope and broken system.
I wasn’t looking for a cause to promote or looking for a fight. I just wanted to clean my ditch so that it does what it was designed to do. I had county approval, and I believed I was doing it legally.
DNR officials said otherwise. So, now I am bringing this to everyone’s attention, because I believe this needs to stop. Farmers are the original environmentalists.
I have assembled several case studies with specifics about other instances where landowners are hung up in red tape for far too long. There is usually only a limited amount of time in any one year to do this type of work. As current laws are enforced, it’s very frustrating, if sometimes not impossible, to carry out these projects. That’s not right.
Slonaker owns and operates a farm in Wayne County, Ind., and manages farms in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.