Bill Aims For Safer Retention Ponds

By Mary Collins

Bill Aims For Safer Retention Ponds

January 10, 2011 Updated Jan 10, 2011 at 8:40 AM EDT

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., (Indiana's NewsCenter)--An Indiana lawmaker worried about the dangers posed by retention ponds wants nearby homeowners to foot the bill for erecting safety barriers such as guardrails that could prevent drownings in the growing number of drainage basins dotting the state's subdivisions.

Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, sponsored a similar bill in 2009 that cleared the Senate but died in the Democrat-controlled House. He's optimistic about his bill's prospects this session now that his party controls both legislative chambers.

Bray said his bill could help prevent the drownings of children who fall into the flood-control ponds and disoriented motorists who miss a turn and accidentally drive into one of the small lakes.

Indiana developers are required to build such ponds to capture rain and snow melt flowing off parking lots, streets and homes' roofs in subdivisions. So are developers of office and industrial parks, some of which have multiple ponds. "A generation ago, we didn't have retention ponds, but there are a lot of them now; and I think if you're going to have them, they should be as safe as possible," Bray said. "We've had some real tragedies."

While community swimming pools are ringed by fencing to prevent children from drowning, Bray notes that many retention ponds have no such features, leading to several deaths each year.

Bray's bill would not require the construction of guardrails, fences or earthen barriers around existing retention ponds but would instead provide a way to pay for them. It would permit an Indiana statute called the Barrett Law, which is typically used for debt financing, to be tapped as a way to pay for pond barriers.

Bray said that cost would be reflected in the tax bills of homeowners in subdivisions and of businesses in office or industrial parks with the ponds. Bray said his bill would apply to existing ponds, but he hopes local zoning boards take up the cause and require developers seeking approval for projects to include such barriers in their designs.

Jeff Quyle, a member of the Morgan County Council who testified in favor of Bray's bill in 2009, said he will testify for it again if asked. Quyle said there appears to be an increase in retention pond drownings.

"It seems like two or three times a year, you hear about a car found in a pond."
Quyle noted that in 2008, the body of a Plainfield man who had been missing for two years was found in his car at the bottom of a retention pond only blocks from his home.
He said there needs to be a way to pay for safety systems around the ponds, particularly since Indiana voters in November approved a constitutional amendment making the state's property tax limits more permanent. Using Barrett Law funding makes sense in light of the property tax limits, Quyle said, because it passes on the cost of an improvement to the individuals mostly likely to benefit from it.
"It's sort of a property tax user fee, in essence. The folks in the immediate vicinity of one of these ponds are the ones who are driving on the roads of the subdivision, for the most part. They're the ones who are most at risk. And they're the ones who will receive the most benefit from having it there."
Rick Wajda, chief executive officer of the Indiana Builders Association, said the Indianapolis-based group understands the appeal of using the financing model Bray wants to tap into. But he said the group has concerns about the effectiveness of some safety barriers that have been used around retention ponds.
In particular, he said, the association does not think fencing is an adequate means of protection. He said fencing could even endanger children who might find a way into a fence-lined pond and then slip and begin to drown -- at which point the fence would be a barrier to would-be rescuers.
"Kids are naturally curious -- they want to see what's on the other side, or just be on the other side. And once they get on the other side of a fence and get in trouble, how do the emergency responders get to them?" Wajda said.
He said that considering the high prices many lakeside homes command, some type of earthen mounding around a retention pond, or a guardrail along those adjacent to roads, might be a better idea.
"A lot of people pay a premium to be on the water, and you would think they would prefer some aesthetically pleasing barrier," he said.

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