Editorial: State’s quiet land deals cloud big project


Anderson Herald Bulletin

The rumblings started about a year ago.

A real estate company was quietly contacting Boone County property owners offering to buy them out.

Soon after the first of the year, word began to spread that the mystery buyer wasn’t some private developer. It was the state of Indiana.

Still, the project was shrouded in secrecy. Those who had agreed to sell their land were barred from talking about it through a nondisclosure agreement they’d been required to sign.

News finally broke in May that Eli Lilly would invest $2.1 billion in a new plant on 600 acres the state had bought along the Interstate 65 corridor north of Lebanon. Plans called for the new facility to be the anchor for a high-tech business park.

What no one revealed at the time was that the economic development project would be the largest in state history.

This development might very well turn out to be a great thing for Boone County and the rest of the state. It’s part of a long-term strategy to lure cutting-edge industries to Indiana.

Economic development officials see the project as part of a 70-mile research corridor they hope to develop along Interstate 65 between the state capital and the researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

They envision a site that will be home to hundreds of companies dealing in aerospace, agricultural technology, life sciences, microelectronics, sustainable energy, transportation and other industries of the future.

As of mid-June, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. had acquired the rights to about 6,000 acres, most of it farm ground. State officials say the final size of the development will depend on the market, but some suggest it could top 10,000 acres, roughly the size of the city of Lebanon.

Still, the secrecy surrounding the development in its early stages has left a sour taste in the mouths of some nearby residents.

Some look forward to the high-paying jobs developers promise, but others see the project as a threat to their rural way of life.

That’s a discussion the state should have invited well before it started secretly buying up land for this development.

State officials defend themselves, saying they’re still early in the process. It might take decades before their vision is fully realized, they say, and they have pledged to work with local elected officials and interested parties as the project moves forward.

That’s the approach they should have been taking all along. Those whose lives will be changed by this project deserve to have their voices heard, and state and local officials have a responsibility to listen.