BY DEAN HOCKNEY
UPDATED: February 27, 2015 at 2:00 p.m.
NOTE: As of Feb. 27, 2015 at 1:30 p.m., work continued on the non-disputed parcels at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
KOKOMO, Ind. - The Federal Emergency Management Agency took the next shot in its ongoing dispute with the city of Kokomo concerning the construction of the downtown Kokomo Municipal Stadium. On Feb. 26, the federal agency suspended all hazard mitigation grant awards to the State of Indiana due to unresolved compliance issues with Kokomo's baseball stadium project. Despite the ruling, construction continues on most of the baseball stadium project.
According to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, the state of Indiana currently has $5.5 million in mitigation grant funds that will be affected by the decision.
“As long as FEMA's decision stands, and Kokomo's stadium compliance issues linger, Indiana will not be eligible for future hazard mitigation funding, which could result in millions of additional lost grant funding to Indiana cities and counties,” the IDHS stated in a press release. “IDHS is currently managing $50 million in hazard mitigation funded projects. Because these funds are already committed, they are not affected by the suspension.”
IDHS also said that the suspension of funds could affect the National Flood Insurance Kokomo.
“The suspension may also extend to future disaster funds and the NFIP as related to the Kokomo project,” the press release said. “The rest of the state is still eligible for future disaster grants and the National Flood Insurance Program.”
Despite the suspension of grants, as of the afternoon of Feb. 27 the construction of Kokomo Municipal Stadium continued – the city noted that they stopped construction of the eight parcels of land in question in November. Randy McKay, director of operations for the city of Kokomo, also called on Indiana Governor Mike Pence to join the city in the fight.
“We’re not completely surprised with the letter from FEMA,” said McKay. “We have been working closely with the state since litigation was filed to resolve this matter. We know the state understands the overreach of the federal government; this is not new to the governor. We hope the state will choose to support the city of Kokomo in our argument that we are in compliance. We intend to continue our discussion with the state to resolve the matter.
Kara Brooks, press secretary for Governor Pence, would not comment on the city’s request for support and directed questions back to the IDHS.
“Governor Pence and his departments have actively fought, or filed suit against, federal government overreach on the Affordable Care Act, Immigration Reform, Education Policy and other issues,” said McKay. “We are in continued talks with IDHS regarding this issue and our related lawsuit. IDHS has indicated a willingness to concur and support Kokomo’s position in recent discussions.”
FEMA determined in late 2014 that the Kokomo baseball stadium was not in compliance. As the grantee, IDHS has been working with the city of Kokomo to resolve compliance issues – to no avail. IDHS said in its press release that the city needs to take the eight parcels in question and return them to its original state.
“Up to eight parcels that are currently part of the baseball stadium project must be returned to open space, in accordance with FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant program regulations,” IDHS stated. “The City of Kokomo applied for and was granted FEMA funds from the grant program to purchase the properties.”
But McKay and city leaders do not agree with FEMA’s assessment of the eight parcels.
“We firmly dispute FEMA’s assertions that the eight parcels in question are not in compliance,” said McKay. “We believe that the redesign plans are fully compliant with the deed restrictions placed on the parcels; that is why we filed suit against IDHS on January 26. FEMA has not provided the City of Kokomo with any actionable, specific instructions for how to align the design with their demands. We have offered several alternative designs yet they provide no guidance for how we can address their concerns. They offer no explanation for their position.”
IDHS previously issued a letter on November 24, 2014, noting the violations and providing a timeline of 60 days for the city to resolve the issues. FEMA's February 25, 2015 letter noted that the violations still exist.
“We are evaluating FEMA’s current position and are open to discussing what change, if any, is needed to the project in order to bring finality to it,” McKay concluded. “This political and bureaucratic interference may cause a delay, but we are committed to completing Kokomo Municipal Stadium.”
The issue is also being taken up at the Indiana Statehouse – with two prominent Kokomo legislators involved. Senator Jim Buck (R-Kokomo) has opposed the stadium construction and filed emergency legislation that would allow IDHS to issue a cease and desist order. Senate Bill 100, while passed by the Senate 40-10, has been stalled since Feb. 5 in the Indiana House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee. Indiana District 30 State Representative Mike Karickhoff (R-Kokomo) sits on the Natural Resources committee.