Utility, EPA settlement boosts Johnson, Shelby county nature preserves

A $600,000 grant by way of a settlement will help Johnson and Shelby counties protect and add to their nature preserves, and a $3.5 million investment guarantee will improve air quality and reduce pollution, the Central Indiana land trust announced this week.

Johnson County’s Hills of Gold Conservation Area, which includes the Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow, Glacier’s End Nature Preserve and a conservation easement between them, and Meltzer Wood Preserve, a 60-acre conservation area in Shelby County are already areas owned by the land trust, which will be able to purchase more land with the money.

The settlement, between American Electric Power and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will allow Central Indiana Land Trust Inc. to add to those preserves, according to a land trust news release.

The settlement also included a stipulation that American Electric Power, Indiana Michigan Power’s parent company, invest $3.5 million to improve air quality and reduce pollution, according to the news release.

In 2007, a federal court determined American Electric Power was responsible for millions of excess tons of pollutant emitted into the atmosphere. The company agreed to pay a $15 million civil penalty and carry out $60 million in environmental projects in the largest environmental enforcement settlement in U.S. history, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The $600,000 grant will help Central Indiana Land Trust buy 124 acres of land for conservation 1 1/2 miles west of Glacier’s End, near Trafalgar on the Johnson County-Brown County border. Central Indiana Land Trust is also looking to buy Meltzer Woods, south of Shelbyville, said Cliff Chapman, the land trust’s executive director.

The settlement with the EPA includes eight states and 13 utilities. The Citizens Action Coalition, The Clean Air Council and Indiana Wildlife Federation will oversee money spent by American Electric Power, according to the news release.

The settlement is important in making sure future generations of Hoosiers can enjoy natural areas with an abundance of biodiversity, Chapman said in the news release.

“We’re delighted to have this opportunity to make these areas available for study and enjoyment forever,” Chapman said.

Central Indiana Land Trust wants to open Glacier’s End Nature Preserve in 2021, and Hills of Gold is already open to the public. The land trust planted about 10,500 trees this spring at Glacier’s End, he said.

Glacier’s End and Hills of Gold are some of the most biodiverse areas in Indiana, which is why preserving them is key, Chapman said.

A variety of warblers call the area home, along with numerous wood thrush birds and the red-eyed vireo, he said.

“It’s a part of southern Johnson County that looks a lot like Brown County State Park but has glacial influence. It makes for richer soil so it just supports a lot of life,” Chapman said. “You have the topography of Brown County and the rich soil of Johnson County. The forests there are full of rare and endangered birds and healthy populations of plants and animals.”