Lawmakers: White River homeowners forced to vacate did ‘nothing wrong’

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Several Indiana families with homes by the White River are being forced to evacuate and destroy their houses, all without compensation.
Now, state lawmakers are working to change that.
The families involved hope they succeed.
“She loved that cabin,” said Lyra Baitis. “This was a dream of hers.”
Baitis and her siblings now own the home their mother bought in Shoals, Indiana near the White River. Not only are they grieving their mother, who passed away in December unexpectedly. They are now grieving the loss of the home she purchased as a family legacy.
“She wanted all of her children and her grandchildren to enjoy this cabin for years to come,” said Baitis.
She said her mom spent the last months of her life trying to save her family cabin from the Department of Natural Resources. She said a devastating letter from DNR was sent to about six homeowners in the area.
“The letter states that you must pay to have the home removed and we are not compensating you and if you leave your home past a certain date you will be fined 500 dollars per day,” said Baitis.
State Sen. Eric Bassler helped write a bill that would help. It doesn’t stop the homes from being demolished but it does help those who own the property.
“This is simply telling the DNR that they need to apply for any possible federal grants maybe through FEMA or maybe look at possible state programs or even non-profit organizations that would help reimburse these homeowners for the taking down of their own homes,” said Sen. Bassler.
“Even if we can’t save her cabin, at least we saved the investment “ added Baitis. “And then we can buy another family cabin that we could all enjoy because that was very important to her.”
State Rep. Jeff Ellington said he visited some of these homes over the weekend and didn’t see any flood safety concerns. He is meeting with DNR to learn more but right now, he says he supports this bill.
“This won’t come out of DNR or state’s budget, it may take a little man power, but I think it’s worth the effort,” said Ellington.
At this point, the committee chairman State Representative Sean Eberhart says he does not plan to hear this bill in committee.
We are still waiting to hear back about why.
DNR says it cannot comment on this matter due to pending legislation or litigation.
If the bill isn’t heard by the deadline this week, Sen. Bassler said there still could be hope in the form of an amendment or conference committee.
“In some ways I guess we are not going to go down without a fight,” said Bassler.
Baitis is worried about what might happen in the future for others if this bill doesn’t pass.
“This could happen to anybody in Indiana, without this bill passing, the DNR could go to anybody who lives along a river and suddenly say hey, we’ve decided your home is on a flood way. You need to remove it and pay to have it removed and we are not compensating you,” said Baitis.
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