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
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
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
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.
News Release from
Indianapolis Power and Light Company
- 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
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,"
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.