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Lawmakers want to use fund for gasoline leak cleanups to improve Indiana airports

By Rebecca Thiele, IPB News | Published on in Business, Environment, Government, Transportation
Aviation Indiana officials say smaller airports like the Monroe County Airport in Bloomington often aren't eligible for much of the state grant funding for infrastructure improvements. (Clayton Baumgarth/WTIU)

Some Indiana lawmakers want to use part of a fund for cleaning up leaks at underground gas tanks for upgrades at the state’s airports. A bill to do that — HB 1072 — passed out of committee on Wednesday despite concerns from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Taxpayers, gas station owners, and airports all pay into a fund that goes to help clean up underground fuel tanks when they leak.

The bill proposed by Rep. Alan Morrison (R-Brazil) would put the amount that airports pay into a separate fund that could be used for above-ground tank cleanups as well. Money leftover would go to infrastructure improvements at Indiana’s airports.

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Brain Payne directs the Columbus Municipal Airport and is president of Aviation Indiana. He said the bill will allow for upgrades at smaller airports that are usually ineligible for grant funding.

“Not only will it help them grow and prosper, but new revenue-generating development will lead to successful economic drivers for each of our Hoosier communities,” Payne said.

Payne said the Michigan City and French Lick airports, for example, don’t have the opportunities that the Columbus airport does.

Drake Abramson is the legislative director for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management — which manages the fund. He said IDEM supports using it to pay to prevent or clean up leaks at above-ground tanks, but this bill goes against the intent of the fund — environmental cleanups.

“It would open the ELTF to be a target by other industries who may want to fund projects that are not in line with the agency’s mission — protecting human health and the environment,” Abramson said.

READ MORE: State money to clean up gasoline leaks in Indiana is at risk: Here’s why

That could ultimately mean less money for cleanups.

The Indiana Food and Fuel Association — which represents gas station owners — and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce also opposed the bill as currently written.

similar bill has been proposed in the Senate — but that one would only expand the fund to pay for environmental projects at above-ground storage tanks, not airport improvements.

Contact reporter Rebecca Thiele at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.