Wetlands near Roanoke not welcomed by all

A proposed wetland restoration project is creating controversy in the Roanoke area, as Vera Bradley Corp. seeks to comply with federal environmental law.

Vera Bradley recently built a facility at the junction of Lafayette Center Road, Interstate 469 and Interstate 69 in southwest Allen County. Because construction of the building required the destruction of about three acres of wetland, Vera Bradley must restore more than what it took.

"My concern is that regardless of what the Little River Wetlands Project says, wetlands will breed mosquitoes - it's a perfect environment," says Roanoke Town Manager Paul Swain.

The Clean Water Act: Section 401 - Water Quality Certification, a federal law, requires developers to restore emergent wetlands by a ratio of 2-1 and scrub-shrub wetlands by a ratio of 3-1. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allows preservation of existing wetland to be part of a wetland mitigation proposal, but restoration or creation of wetland must still be a part of the developer's plan.

Therefore, Vera Bradley will restore about 5.5 acres of wetland currently being used as farmland, and will also preserve six acres of forested wetland.

The company selected the area near Roanoke, across from town along U.S.-24, as the restored or new wetland must be in the same watershed as the wetland that was destroyed, which in this case is the Little River.

The property in question is a tract of land nestled between CR 900N and Station Road along the east bank of the Little River less than one-half mile from Roanoke.

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires wetland mitigation to be conducted adjacent to the waters of the U.S.," says Amy Hartsock, public information officer for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. "However, as for the chosen location, there wasn't a specific requirement for it to be located near Roanoke."

Melissa Schenkel, public relations representative for Vera Bradley, says that the project site was selected based on legal requirements and cooperation with the landowners.

"The current landowner has a special interest in maintaining the land as a nature preserve," Schenkel says. "We looked at the feasibility of restoration, proximity to develop-ment and current land use. (The property) was the best fit."

Despite assurances by both Vera Bradley and IDEM that correctly-built wetlands will reduce mosquito population rather than increase it, Swain is not convinced.

"I'm not buying into the statement that proper wetlands will control mosquitoes," Swain said. "It's very fertile farmground. I think it's ridiculous."

A "Grant of Easement for Wetland Mitigation Area and Declaration of Restrictions and Covenants upon Real Estate" was approved for the project in June 2009 by the Huntington County Auditor's Office, which defines what Vera Bradley intends to do with the property. According to IDEM, the time period for public comment at the Army Corps and IDEM levels took place this summer, and IDEM reports receiving no comment or petition during that time.

Swain said the wetland project needs to be approved by the Indiana Department of Natu-ral Resources, and said that if DNR approves the project, he will file an appeal.
Vera Bradley has not planned a public hearing, but did not rule out the possibility of doing so.

However, both Swain and the Huntington County Department of Community Development said that they have not heard anything directly from Vera Bradley about the mitigation.

"I have not had any correspondence with Vera Bradley at all," Swain said.