"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Natural Resources, Utilities, Ethics, and Decency
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

It was undoubtedly quite legal, but when Indianapolis Power and Light Company put a 2,000-acre-plus chunk of Morgan County land on the auction block on Monday that rumbling and quaking you heard/felt may have come from the foundations of ethics and decency.

While some folks are slapping the utility on the back and offering "atta boys . . . you did good" for the rumor that some 1,500 acres (of more than 4,000 acres of the parcel) will be set aside for purchase by the Department of Natural Resources (in essence the state . . . we, the people), the sordid fact remains: IPALCO took a page from its brother, the Indianapolis Water Company, and it's Geist/Morse Reservoirs real estate capers.

"Our only mandate is to produce electricity and deliver it to the people," I once was told by a high-ranking official of Public Service Indiana (now Cinergy). The gist of the conversation was that the utility could do/would do whatever it took to get the job done. The Cinergy man then fed me a dose of his bitter medicine and laughed as a drop or two dribbled down my chin.

It would seem to me that the charge of IPALCO and Cinergy would be the same, at least so far as the laws that govern their activities are concerned.

It is difficult to ignore the fact that those 2,000-plus acres of Morgan County real estate on the block Monday were purchased for a minuscule outlay of cash in comparison to the rumored $14-million asking price for the total parcel of land. Add the fact that some of that land was purchased in what is said to have been at least threats of condemnation, and the sale smells like a barrel of dead carp that has been too long in the hot sun.

OK! So IPALCO has agreed to let the DNR have first crack at some 1,500 acres of the tract said to be ideally suited for some kind of outdoor recreation, or merely to conserve the sylvan setting. Big Deal! But what price will the DNR (we the people) pay? And how much profit will IPALCO reap from a deal that should never have happened.

This scenario, in its entirety, reeks with the smell of the big White River fish kill a few years back, not to mention numerous other deals in which sky-high profits have been realized by utilities in the real estate business.

When the waters of White River were cleansed of the toxic waste that killed the fish, the first thing everyone wanted was retribution. Somebody had to pay. But the thing that should have been uppermost in our minds was prevention. What we needed most (then and now) was prevention. We should have been concerned with preventing a ditto performance by another would-be polluter on another river or stream at another time. 

But we weren't. And that hasn't changed one iota.

None of the above should be construed to mean that the services of utilities are not important--even necessary to the masses--in our way of life. We certainly must have electricity, heat, transportation, modes of communication, and other necessities.

Can you imagine, for example, what would happen to the known world if all electricity production, modes of transportation and communication failed? Utilities are as important to the masses as an occasional persimmon pudding or homemade biscuits and gravy are to a county boy trapped in the city. What we need to realize is that utilities have become big business and they should be governed as such.

If a utility purchases land--or any other commodity--for use in providing a service to the public, it should be regarded as a necessity. But if such land--or such commodity--becomes surplus, the utility should reap a fair return on its investment, and that is all. Utilities should be required by law to deal in the services they are charged with delivering--and nothing else.

The situation begs for a thorough study of laws that govern utilities (including the powers of eminent domain), and amendments to those laws if they are necessary. 

IPL Completes Auction 

News Release from Indianapolis Power and Light Company

Indianapolis - December 15, 2003 - Indianapolis Power & Light Company (IPL) sold the remaining approximately 2,500 acres of its property near Morgan County earlier today. The land was purchased by a single independent bidder for $8.5 million.
"This is an ideal outcome for Morgan County, the State and IPL," said IPL President & CEO Ann Murtlow.  "The State was able to retain 1,500 acres of forest, a local Morgan County resident was able to purchase the remaining 2,500 acres and IPL was able to sell the land at fair value, thereby continuing the responsible management of the company's resources." 

IPL also released the terms of the agreement by which the State purchased 1,500 acres of forest land last week.  IPL agreed to sell the land to the State for $3,000 per acre and extend the deadline for closing from 60 days to 120 days.  In addition, IPL waved the 2 percent buyers' premium, which buyers at the auction paid in addition to the purchase price. "Thanks to the creativity and dedication from State and IPL representatives, all parties came away as winners as a result of the sale of this land," added Murtlow.

The total proceeds of approximately $13 million from the sale of land will be used to help finance large IPL capital projects, such as ongoing environmental improvements, which total about $230 million and will significantly reduce emissions from our power plants.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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