The Farmer's Exchange Online Home
Friday, December 7, 2018
Michiana's Popular Farm Paper Since 1926
Click here to start your trial subscription!

Farmers Wary of New Carlisle Development Plans


by Marlys Weaver-Stoesz

Published: Friday, October 19, 2018

A group of community members, including several farmers, are pushing back against St. Joseph County's plans to develop land near New Carlisle for a "mega-industrial park" branded as the Indiana Enterprise Center.

St. Joseph County and the city of New Carlisle have been looking at the northwest part of the county as a place to nurture industrial growth since the 1980s, according to Bill Schalliol, executive director of economic development for the county. The focus is the "priority development area" of 6,600 acres mainly between U.S. 20 and S.R. 2. Several businesses are already established in this area, including I/N Tek and I/N Kote, Unifrax, the New Carlisle Water Treatment Plant and the St. Joseph Energy Center.

In a September blog post on the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce website, Chamber President and CEO Jeff Rea explained how that area, with its large tracts of land, utilities, the U.S. 20 and S.R. 2 highways, nearby railroads and "proximity to major markets," has attracted several businesses interested in developing there.

"But development has been complicated because of the lack of shovel-ready sites," the post states. "Issues like zoning, wetlands, land control and utility connections meant a great deal of uncertainty about development and has often caused developers and companies to quickly rule out this area and move on to other sites."

Schalliol said that 10 different consulting firms, along with the city of New Carlisle and several St. Joseph County agencies, are performing multiple studies and examining the benefits and challenges to developing the area.

Several area people are wary of what industry would do in this historically agriculture-focused area. Concerned community members formed the Open Space and Agricultural Alliance to spread the word about plans for the area and the public's questions. People in the group have a mix of concerns, including the use of tax incentives to attract businesses and how they see plans for the industrial park running counter to the county's established comprehensive plan. The group's top two priorities, though, are protecting farmland and the aquifer.

"This is rich, top-notch soil and there's not a lot of that in the United States," said Chris Cobb of South Bend. "That's something that really should be protected for itself first and foremost. The second big concern is water."

Depending on the types of industry that may come in, he and others in the group worry that waste could contaminate the area's groundwater.

Jennifer Betz, who lives in Greene Twp. and whose husband farms, said the group has attracted concerned citizens from across the county and beyond, "because obviously if this kind of industrial megaplex would actually happen, it would reverberate not just in St. Joe County, but in Berrien (County, Mich.) and LaPorte."

Along with a Facebook group, the Open Space and Agricultural Alliance has created a petition on ipetitions.com calling for the St. Joseph County board of commissioners and county council to hold a "more open and participatory process" and to consider alternative plans "that prioritize sustainable development and the protection of farms and natural areas." As of Oct. 15, the petition had 297 digital signatures.

"If this plan is implemented," a piece of the petition reads, "it would completely supplant the rural community that now lies between New Carlisle and South Bend, replacing the rural landscape with what the planners have termed 'a mega-industrial park.' Farms and natural areas are precious, irreplaceable assets. Well managed, they protect soil fertility, water quality, and biodiversity. They provide a beautiful, healthful setting for outdoor recreation and make durable contributions to the local economy."

Andy Oldham lives in Olive Twp. and farms corn and soybeans on about 700 acres in St. Joseph and LaPorte counties. He is working on learning more about the plans and process, he said, but does know he opposes the idea of county government possibly purchasing land.

"I would like to see the area stay in farmland," he said.

Oldham and other members of the Open Space and Agricultural Alliance are also concerned about the amount of land the Indiana Enterprise Center could take up.

Schalliol said that studies are focused on a total of 130,000 acres, with 22,000 acres within that larger region being more intensely studied. Within those 22,000 acres is the core development area of 6,600 acres, he said.

The September press release from the South Bend Regional Chamber also iterated that "Despite what the media would have you believe, there are no plans to develop 20,000-plus acres. The planning area is that big, but that is because it is important to plan any new development within the context of what exists in and around the area."

However, St. Joseph County Economic Development Office maps presented as recently as the middle of September label that area as "Future Development."

Betz said conversations with county officials about the project have included "all kinds of doublespeak."

"The process has been really unclear," she said.

Schalliol said that after hearing concerns from the group this past spring, the county has hired Peerless Midwest in Granger to examine the aquifer and what effects development could have.

"We're very curious to get their input," Schalliol said about the Open Space and Agricultural Alliance. He also noted that he and others on the steering committee and executive committee try to be as transparent as possible, posting meeting minutes and alerts online and inviting concerned residents to steering committee meetings.

The county and its consultants are in the midst of information gathering, Schalliol said, with future public meetings not likely until November or December.

Mark Serry farms about 2,200 acres in St. Joseph and LaPorte counties and just across the stateline in Michigan. He helps run the family farm of corn, soybeans, wheat and some beef cattle that his grandfather began.

Serry is doubtful the group can stop the plans completely, but said he hopes for some compromise.

"I think hopefully you can be more reasonable," he said, "and contain it down to 'let it grow as it goes.'"

Learn more about Indiana Enterprise Center plans at https://www.sjcindiana.com/1171/Indiana-Enterprise-Center.

Return to Top of Page