GARY | Pollution at the Gary/Chicago International Airport will end up in a landfill in Newton County, after a massive undertaking that will require a fleet of trucks to make three round trips a day.
Sixty trucks soon will haul off the worse-than-anticipated ground pollution that has delayed the airport's runway expansion project until at least next fall. The airport authority board voted 3-0, with two abstentions, to pay waste management company Republic Services up to $2.7 million to store soil and concrete that's contaminated with lead, arsenic and other chemicals.
The authority also will pay Brandenburg Industrial Services Co. an estimated $4.91 million to dig up and carry off the contaminated soil, which is located on airport land that had previously been home to an oil refinery, an asphalt plant and a hazardous disposal facility. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have said the pollution must be cleaned up, and have approved the 265-acre Newton County Landfill as a site where it can be safely dumped.
Airport officials also considered disposing of the toxins in Joliet and Indianapolis, but Republic Services offered the lowest cost.
Expansion project manager Scott Wheeler reassured board members the expense would not add to the project's overall cost of $166 million. The airport is lengthening the runway by 1,900 feet so it can accommodate larger planes that could fly out to the West Coast, as part of an ongoing effort to attract more users and private investment in the surrounding area.
The project has been delayed mainly because two railroad companies have not yet reached an agreement on moving their tracks, and the worse-than-expected ground contamination needs to be removed from the site, Wheeler said.
PCBs, lead, oils and arsenic saturate the ground at the Conservation Chemicals site, which the airport bought in 2001. Airport authority officials initially thought it had 40,000 cubic yards of pollution, but the actual amount turned out to be closer to 120,000 cubic yards, spokesman James Ward said.
A berm at the airport also may contain even more pollution that would need to be carted off, but more testing still needs to be done, Ward said.
Arsenic and other dangerous chemicals cannot be left in the ground at the airport, because they potentially could harm Federal Aviation Administration employees who would have to install and maintain equipment at the airport, spokesman Tony Molinaro said.
The contractor will have until Nov. 15 to finish removing the pollution.
"It's a huge undertaking," Ward said. "We have to have the site cleaned up to residential levels."