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Indiana Department of Environmental Management

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Chapter 3: Table of Contents

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Chapter 3 - Section II: Frequently Asked Questions

When do companies have to notify the public or nearby property owners?

Several permits that IDEM issues require applicants to notify adjacent property owners and occupants. This is often done by letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service. Often, these notifications must be completed within a specific amount of time following the submission of an application.

In addition to notifying adjacent property owners, some permits require a public notice component, which is usually satisfied through a legal notice in a local newspaper. Some notices are provided by the company, and some are issued by IDEM. These printed public notices often signal the beginning of a public comment period where interested parties can offer their opinions on a proposed action.

Certain water-based utilities are obligated to send notices to local residents. Public drinking water systems must provide a yearly summary of water quality to consumers. Any more serious water quality violations must be reported to consumers within specific time frames. The more potential affect to human health, the shorter the required notification time-frame. Wastewater treatment plants that are not operating as required must also notify local residents. Typically, this notification comes through IDEM.

For a quick look at the notification requirements for IDEM permits, check the permit charts located in Chapter 6: What is a Permit. For more information on permits, read the permit summaries in Chapter 6: What is a Permit or visit the IDEM On-line Permit Guide for detailed information.

Can a person/company begin construction without an IDEM permit?

Proper permits must be obtained in order to construct facilities, or perform construction activities in Indiana streams or wetlands. Any construction that begins without a permit is a violation, and can result in enforcement action being taken against the company or resident performing the unauthorized activities. Penalties are assessed on a case-by-case basis, but can include increased costs due to delays and civil penalties or fines.

In some cases, it is possible to apply for an after-the-fact permit, although the issuance of such a permit is not guaranteed. In cases where after-the-fact permits were not issued, sites may be required to make costly changes, or redo portions of the structure. In extreme cases, structures must be completely removed, and in cases where wetlands and streams are involved, the environment returned to its original state.

Why is IDEM allowing a large company to pollute our environment?

IDEM writes permits based on several federal laws, including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. These laws set specific limits for the amount of pollutants that can be found in the air and water in order to meet federal standards.

When writing a permit, IDEM calculates the amount of each pollutant in effluent (which is wastewater), and emissions (which are particles and vapors that are released into the air). Completed applications show how facilities will operate while maintaining the integrity of our air and streams, according to federal standards.

In many permits, if facilities can show they can operate within appropriate emission and effluent levels, IDEM is obligated to issue a permit. IDEM cannot use stricter regulations to write the permit for a particular facility.

How do local rules or zoning boards work with environmental issues?

IDEM and local entities have definite roles in determining and working with environmental issues. These roles are laid out in Indiana statute. IDEM has specific regulatory responsibilities, given to the agency by the U.S. EPA and state legislature.

Local agencies have been granted specific responsibilities. These agencies also regulate any environmental issue that is not expressly regulated by IDEM. IDEM will often work with other groups and organizations to help educate residents on environmental issues.

As a nearby property owner, what are my rights?

As an interested party in the state of Indiana, it is your right to obtain information on projects that will potentially impact the environment. Interested parties can join the IDEM mailing list for information on permit applications and permit decisions. Please see Chapter 2: How to get involved for more information on signing up for these informational mailing lists.

In addition to obtaining information through general mailing lists, many permits require the applicant to notify the adjacent property owner and occupant. As a nearby resident, this alerts you of projects that might impact the environment, and potentially your family’s health. This is specifically important so that potentially affected residents can express their opinions and concerns about potential projects in the area.

Finally, potentially affected parties that do not agree with IDEM’s permitting decision have the right to appeal any permitting decision. The process for appealing such a decision is outlined in the notice of decision for each permit.

What do I do if there is an environmental hazard in my neighborhood, who should I call?

Every year, IDEM receives approximately 3000 calls to its 24 hour Emergency Spill Line at (888) 233-7745. IDEM Emergency Response staff react to incidents that are considered immediate major threats to the environment and health. Dispatched day or night and in any weather, the IDEM emergency responders protect their fellow Hoosiers.

The Emergency Response section’s primary role is to make sure that spill response and cleanup is progressing as necessary. IDEM’s emergency responders often work with other agencies, including the U.S. EPA and the United States Coast Guard for large scale releases that require long term monitoring or evacuations.

At the site of a release, staff assesses the incident and provide technical assistance to the responsible party concerning the requirements for containing and stopping a release and outline clean-up requirements. Responders provide oversight to ensure responsible parties meet clean-up requirements. Often, responsible parties must hire specialized contractors that are able to perform a spill response.

The emergency response staff also work to minimize the potential for immediate harm to Hoosiers and the environment by providing assistance to other response agencies involved at the scene. This includes local fire departments, county emergency management agencies, and county health departments. IDEM emergency response staff also work closely with IDNR and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Nonemergency calls and other concerns can be directed to IDEM at (800) 451-6027. IDEM provides a quick reference sheet that provides specific contact information in the event of a spill or material release.

What are regional sewer districts?

A Regional Sewer District (RSD) is an entity that has been created to facilitate the management of sewage in an area. Groups must be sponsored by a government entity, and the petition to form an entity is approved or denied by IDEM.

Once an RSD has been created it goes through the process of choosing the best sewage management process for an area. This process often includes setting rates, approving construction, expanding borders, and other duties.

An RSD has complete authority over its area. IDEM is able to interfere in cases where water quality is affected because of inadequate sewage handling, working with the district to ensure compliance.

Once an RSD is created it is very difficult to remove. Areas within an RSD cannot be taken away, unless the RSD chooses to release them. Additionally, a district cannot be dissolved unless there is a mechanism in place to care for infrastructure, such as sewer lines and treatment plans.

For more information on regional sewer districts, visit the new Indiana Regional Water and Sewer Districts Guide.

Can IDEM seize property or take action against a property?

IDEM is an investigative agency, not a prosecutorial entity. This means that while IDEM is able to look into a property, collect information and evidence, and make recommendations to other groups, it is not able to file charges or make arrests. IDEM works in partnership with several agencies that do have the authority to prosecute individuals, on a local to federal level. Any legal judgments that are placed on an individual or facility are made by the court system.

IDEM is not able to seize property outright. In some instances where citizens or facilities have ignored court judgments, IDEM can use due process and the court system to request that particular property be sold. There are specific limits on what property this may apply to. Additionally, this course of action is used to reimburse cleanup costs or pay civil fines that have been ignored.

According to state statute, IDEM may take action on a property by limiting or prohibiting certain actions. These limitations are levied in the event of a violation, and usually prohibit certain types of activities until the violation is remedied.

How does IDEM know when people are not in compliance?

IDEM performs regular inspections at regulated facilities around the state. These inspections help verify that environmental controls are working properly and that facilities are operating within their permit-based limits.

Hoosiers are an important cog in the wheel of information. Concerns and complaints called in by residents triggers an IDEM investigation into potential environmental issues throughout the state.

How do I know if a facility is out of compliance?

Facility permits are public documents, so any interested party may request to view a copy. There are many locations that a permit may be found. Some permits must be displayed locally, such as in a library or county health department. All completed permits can be viewed in the IDEM file room or online on IDEM’s Virtual File Cabinet.

Interested parties that believe facilities are not following the stipulations set out in their permit may report their suspicions to IDEM. Concerns or complaints can be sent in a variety of ways, which are covered in depth in Chapter 2: How to Get Involved.

How can I submit comments about a rule?

You can keep track of which rules are available for comment by reading notices published monthly in the Indiana Register, which is published on the first day of every month; by checking IDEM's Rules in Progress Web page; or you can ask staff if you can be notified about a specific rule. You may submit comments in writing to the address listed in the notice. Comments can be mailed, faxed, or hand delivered.