East Chicago is vigorously pursuing its proposal for a new $400 million shipping port on Lake Michigan, just as Gary hopes to get a hearing its own proposal for Buffington Harbor.
The two proposals have raised the stakes for a Sept. 12 hearing by a legislative joint study committee charged with studying the feasibility and economic impact of adding a second Indiana port to serve Lake Michigan.
"It would create jobs, respectable, good-paying jobs," East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said of his city's proposal. "It gives us an opportunity to work with residents and industry and, bar none, this would be economic development at its highest."
The port would be located on the east side of the peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan, where many of ArcelorMittal's steel-making facilities are located, Copeland said.
The project has the support of the steelmaker, which provided valuable advice as to its location and use, Copeland said. To eventually move forward, the port also would need the backing of the Ports of Indiana, he said.
Right now, the only Indiana port on Lake Michigan is the Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor. Everyone agrees no lakefront port project of any size could be built without the support of the Ports of Indiana, which also operates ports on the Ohio river.
Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, the chairman of the Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is promising a fair hearing for the two port projects, only one of which could be built given the limited funding and shipping traffic that may be available.
The Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has invited Gary, East Chicago and representatives of industry to present plans at the committee's hearing Sept. 12 at the headquarters of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, according to Soliday.
Gary officials are expected to testify about a proposal for a port at Buffington Harbor. Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson had a big hand in crafting the legislation calling for the study committee to determine the feasibility of the second port on Lake Michigan.
The Gary mayor's spokeswoman emailed a statement in response to a Times inquiry Tuesday.
"The mayor has indicated that the city of Gary will be an active participant on the State Study Commission for the port. Once that body has met, she will be able to give more of an update," the statement said.
The East Chicago RDA grant request differs from some others already approved for lakefront cities in that it focuses on job creation at major industrial employers to benefit residents, Copeland said. The RDA has previously granted $118.2 million to six lakefront park projects.
East Chicago has sought to get the ball rolling on its port project, with a request for funding submitted to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority in July.
Funding for a feasibility study for a port is only one part of that $38 million request, according to SEH director of economic development Matt Reardon, who is advising East Chicago on the project. The application also asks for more money to keep the port project moving during following years and includes an ambitious plan to reconnect North Harbor neighborhoods and residents with the lakeshore.
If a new port is eventually built in East Chicago, the bulk of the funding would come from private industry, which has a stake in the port because of the proximity of the BP refinery, ArcelorMittal steel mills and other industry, Reardon said.
BP and ArcelorMittal currently use shipping facilities located in the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal for transporting cargo. BP ships asphalt out by barge and ArcelorMittal takes shipment of iron ore and other steel inputs.