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Eastern Indiana farm manager keeps up the pressure on legislators

June 28, 2021

3 Min Read
tiling equipment in a field
THROTTLE BACK OVERREACH: Farm manager Steve Slonaker contends that state government should not be able to interfere with ag drainage operations. Darrell Boone

An eastern Indiana farm manager began a fight over a year ago to gain attention to what he feels is an unfair power grab for control of property rights by state government. Specifically, Steve Slonaker, Centerville, believes the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has too much power and control when it comes to what landowners, farmers and county surveyors can do on private lands.

Slonaker, who operates Slonaker Farm Management, stepped up his efforts to make other people aware of the situation after IDNR staff required him to get a permit to complete clearing the second half of a ditch. He cleared the first half a few years earlier without incident. Slonaker obtained the permit and finished clearing the ditch, but the incident left him believing someone needed to bring attention to what he considers a property rights crisis.

Related: Landowner frustrated by confusing DNR permit process

His goal was legislation to correct the situation, but it didn’t happen in the 2021 Indiana General Assembly. However, the 2021 session did address a controversial bill that would have eliminated the permit system set up by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management nearly two decades ago, when courts ruled federal authorities didn’t have control over certain wetlands. The Legislature eventually filled the gap by allowing IDEM to set up its permit system.

The 2021 legislation was amended, and while IDEM’s permit system was left intact for certain classes of wetlands, new law specifies that IDEM does not have control over ephemeral wetlands. These are spots that may carry water in wet years for a short time, then stay dry for months.

Indiana Farm Bureau spokespersons note that while this doesn’t address Slonaker’s problem directly, it is a step in the right direction for returning control of private lands to property owners.

Rachet up pressure

The legislation passed this session didn’t satisfy Slonaker, and he’s begun a new campaign to get legislators’ attention before the 2022 session. Recently, he distributed postcards to 4,700 farmers in all Indiana counties. Perhaps you received one.

The postcard contains information Slonaker compiled that he believes demonstrates situations where IDNR, specifically, is requiring permits for things that are no more than routine maintenance activities, which farmers, being good environmental stewards, have carried out for decades. Those include removing fallen trees embedded in the ground from streams and allowing longtime county legal drains to be maintained.

He clearly states three objectives in his continuing campaign to gather support for legislative change. First, he believes ag drainage activities should be exempt from permits, period. Second, Slonaker wants to see drain maintenance authority restored to county drainage boards. He contends that due to overreach, this authority has been grabbed by state agencies instead.

Third, he says he is simply seeking fairness and respect of farm ownership rights. He says that even when using a joint website provided by IDEM and IDNR, it’s far too confusing to determine if you need a permit for a specified activity. And if you do, he contends the permitting process requires too many hours of a farmer’s time and drags on for too long.

What is he hoping to achieve with his postcard campaign? Slonaker hopes farmers will lobby county Farm Bureau presidents to make this a priority in state INFB policy for legislative action for 2022. He’s also hoping farmers will contact legislators directly and do it soon.

Comments? Email [email protected].

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