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Lake homeowners face $1.5 million dam-repairs bill

PERU, Ind. – A state agency has told homeowners in a northern Indiana subdivision that they are responsible for an estimated $1.5 million in repairs needed for six dams on their neighborhood’s lakes.

Some of the approximately 20 property owners in the Hidden Hills neighborhood just outside Peru are fighting that decision, maintaining the dams are too small to fall under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Kokomo Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1nXiBVB ).

The DNR said the dams built to create lakes for the neighborhood were never permitted or inspected, and their failure could pose serious danger to homes downstream.

Larry West, a Miami County commissioner who is among the property owners, said three engineers hired by neighborhood residents estimated it would cost $250,000 for each structure to be brought up to DNR standards.

The owners also would have to pay $5,000 per dam every two years to pay for annual inspections required by the state agency.

But West said he has yet to see any kind of report that officially documents the dams meet the conditions laid out in state law. Instead, he said it’s been left up to the landowners to fact-check the DNR’s assertions.

“It seems to me they would present a more factual case,” he said. “They should do these studies. Instead, they’re condemning us as guilty before there’s even been a trial.”

Department spokesman Phil Bloom said staffers have measured the dams with a light-laser mapping system and determined all six are tall enough to give the agency jurisdiction over them.

Bloom said the DNR wants to avoid taking legal action and find a way to help the property owners pay for repairs and maintenance.

“We prefer they spend that money fixing the problem instead of tying it up in legal proceedings,” he said.

The county maintains roads that run over four of the dams in the area, but a county attorney said he didn’t believe it was responsible for the structures because they were never dedicated to the county.

West said if the property owners end up having to pay for the repairs, they would likely have to form a state conservancy district, which would allow them to implement a new property tax in the area to cover maintenance costs.

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