Bipartisan bill designed to update eminent domain law

By Amy Lavalley

A bill that would strengthen outdated eminent domain laws in the face of a proposed freight train line with a route through Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties has made its way out of the Indiana House of Representatives and into the Senate.

The measure, House Bill 1260, cleared the House of Representatives with a 95-0 vote and is expected to go before a Senate committee Monday.

The state’s eminent domain laws regarding railroads date back to 1888, said Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who authored the bill and is chair of the Roads and Transportation Committee. The bill is co-authored in the house by Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron; Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster; and Rep. Jim Pressel, R-LaPorte.

“They didn’t really allow a lot of protection for our citizens,” said Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, who is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, in the Senate.

Soliday told the Porter County Board of Commissioners in the fall that he would be working on the bill in light of Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s plans for a freight train line from Milton, Wis., into LaPorte County.

The $8 billion privately funded line would cut through the southern portions of Lake and Porter counties and has raised concerns by residents along its three-state route about loss of farmland, drainage and public safety, among other worries.

The original law stated that if a railroad had 15 investors and $50,000 or $1,000 per mile of railroad, “you could become a railroad in the state of Indiana and exercise eminent domain,” Soliday said. “That might be a little generous.”

Most significantly, he said, the old law didn’t say anything about the public.

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