Progress, development marked region economy in 2012, despite challenges

2012-12-30T00:00:00Z 2014-01-20T16:47:18Z Progress, development marked region economy in 2012, despite challengesTimes Staff
December 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Gary airport soars again

On Feb. 15, the first Allegiant Airlines flight took off from Gary/Chicago International Airport for Orlando/Sanford International Airport.

It was the first regularly scheduled commercial airline flight from the airport since 2008, when start-up airline Skybus flew from Gary for just three weeks before the entire airline folded.

Allegiant has continued flying two round trips weekly between Gary and Orlando since February, with a brief seasonal hiatus in September.

Porter Regional Hospital opens in new location

The doors to the new Porter Regional Hospital opened at 6 a.m. Aug. 26 at 85 E. U.S. 6, the same time its former facility in Valparaiso closed.

Ambulances transferred 95 patients from the 73-year-old hospital to the new location in about about four hours, half the time hospital officials anticipated.

Ambulances transferring patients traveled at normal speeds, without lights or sirens. Transportation workers controlled the signals so red lights would not hamper the move.

The transition process cost about $1 million, Porter Health Care System CEO Jonathan Nalli said.

The site of the former hospital was sold to Valparaiso University.

Potash pulls into Gibson Yard

On April 27, a kickoff event was held for the building of a $40 million Potash Corp. fertilizer transfer facility at Gibson Yard, in Hammond.

Hammond beat out 41 other communities across the United States in landing the facility, which will create 225 construction jobs. It will serve as a main distribution point for fertilizer components mined and produced in Canada to farmers throughout the Midwest.

Potash Corp. officials praised the cooperation they received from city officials as well as local construction trades unions in laying plans for the construction and operation of the facility.

Cline Avenue Bridge coming down

Demolition of the Cline Avenue Bridge began in earnest in the spring and is expected to be completed this week.

Walsh Construction, of Crown Point, won the $8.9 million contract for the bridge's demolition.

Completion of the demolition work will mark the demise of the troubled span, which first opened to traffic in 1983. It was condemned by the state in December 2009 when it was found to be gravely weakened.

E.C. mayor strikes deal for private Cline bridge

In May, East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland sealed a deal that he and state officials hope will result in the building of a private toll bridge to replace the failed Cline Avenue Bridge.

A company called United Bridge Partners should be in possession of the bridge's right-of-way early in 2013 and must build a new span within four years of obtaining necessary permits.

The company plans to invest $150 million to $250 million in the project, which it will recoup by collecting tolls from motorists.

easygo bus system breaks down

Hammond, Whiting and nearby suburban communities were left without bus service when the easygo Lake Transit system went out of business at the end of June.

Pleas from the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority to the Lake County Council to pass a tax to support bus service fell on deaf ears and Northwest Indiana's experiment with regional bus service came to a crashing halt.

Not long after the collapse of easygo Lake Transit, the Lake County Council terminated the RBA, which met for the last time earlier this month.

NIPSCO gets OK to clean up skies

In September, state regulators gave NIPSCO approval to proceed with a $246.4 million clean-coal construction project at its Michigan City Generating Station. The project will involve installing smokestack "scrubbers," which will significantly reduce pollution.

The project is part of an ambitious plan to drastically reduce sulfur and other emissions at NIPSCO's coal-fired generating stations, with a more than $510 million project to install similar scrubbers already well under way at its R.M. Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield.

Construction work at Michigan City is expected to begin early in 2013.

Illiana Expressway goes to feds

In October, the Indiana and Illinois departments of transportation asked the federal government to approve a single east-west route for the Illiana Expressway passing north of Lowell and heading due west to Interstate 55 in Illinois.

The two states are now awaiting a federal "record of decision" approving of the 2,000-foot-wide corridor they have mapped out. That will allow them to go ahead with a detailed engineering and financial study of the 50-mile toll road.

The action of the two state agencies was a disappointment for many landowners and some municipal officials in south Lake County. They had pressed for consideration of a route starting farther south on Indiana 65, where it would affect fewer residents and businesses.

NWI home sales start to pick up pace

Northwest Indiana home sales increased every month this year on a year-over-year basis, putting them on track for their best sales year since the onset of the housing crisis.

The 7,323 homes sold through November in Northwest Indiana was better than the tally for the entire year of 2011, when 6,925 homes were sold, according to the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors.

Record low interest rates that averaged well below 4 percent all year for conventional, fixed-rate mortgages helped propel sales forward throughout the year. In addition, Realtors gave credit to a steadily improving economy, which has people more confident about keeping their jobs and looking forward to better days ahead.

Gary airport expansion gets on track

The Gary/Chicago International airport expansion project picked up steam in 2012, with the erection of railroad bridges, the building of a vehicle overpass, and the grading and preparation of the 1,900-foot runway extension.

But that all came with a price. Early in the year, the airport authority learned the total cost of the project had increased by $13 million, for a grand total of $166 million.

In August, the authority submitted a request for $24 million in additional project support to the Federal Aviation Administration. However, airport officials now say if the FAA money does not come through the airport can borrow the remainder of the money it will need.

BP announces large-scale gas recall 

Energy giant BP said Aug. 20 it would recall off-specification gasoline that was sent to and purchased from fueling stations around the Midwest in recent weeks. The announcement of the recall was preceded by motorists noticing their vehicles began to not run properly after filling up their vehicles. 

BP identified more than 4.7 million gallons of fuel, about 3.4 million of which was shipped from Indiana, contained a higher than normal volume of polymeric residue.

BP paid more than $1.5 million in claims to more than 2,300 people as of early September. 

USW approves new 3-year deal with steelmakers

Two of the nation's largest steelmakers, ArcelorMittal USA and United States Steel Corp., reached deals with the United Steelworkers union in early September on a three-year contract averting a strike that threatened to ground industry activity.

Despite contentious negotiations this summer between the union and companies, agreements were eventually ratified, and hourly workers secured raises and avoided proposals such as a two-tiered wage scale. The deals cover about 30,000 people nationwide, nearly a third of whom are in Northwest Indiana or Chicago's south suburbs.

Strack buys WiseWay, PayLow

The region's largest grocery store chain, Highland-based Strack & Van Til, announced Nov. 27 the purchase of seven WiseWay and PayLow locations from WiseWay Supermarkets. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Merrillville-based WiseWay will continue to operate its store in Winfield and the WiseGuys Discount Liquors chain. Prior to the deal, Strack & Van Til operated 30 Strack and Ultra Foods stores in Northwest Indiana and the Chicago metropolitan area.  

Feds, state announce $400M deal with BP over permits

BP agreed to spend more than $400 million to make additional upgrades of environmental controls at its Whiting Refinery and pay $8 million in civil fines resolving allegations the company violated provisions the Clean Air Act and other laws.

The company entered into the settlement May 23 with federal and state agencies and several environmental groups. Company officials said the additional work isn't expected to delay completion of the modernization project, which is expected to end in 2013.

Enbridge lays ground work for replacement pipeline

Enbridge Energy Partners LP announced plans earlier this year to shut down its existing Line 6B crude oil and liquid petroleum pipeline and construct 285 miles of new pipeline adjacent to it. The pipeline, completed in 1969, spans Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties in Indiana and several counties through Michigan before terminating in Sarnia, Ontario, in Canada.

The company anticipated completing work on a two-phase project to construct the pipeline in Indiana by the end of the year, but environmentalists and property owners in Indiana and have stalled right-of-way negotiations and pushed to give information on the project to regulators.

State Line closes

While workers hoped to forestall the closure of the State Line Energy power plant, the plant's owner Dominion Resources Inc. decided to stop producing electricity at the end of March. The plant operated near Lake Michigan since 1929. Environmental groups and the U.S. EPA pushed for additional emissions controls to be installed at the coal-fired power plant because of the public health impact on air and water quality.  State Line was the city's largest single property tax payer. 

Hostess closing, but brands may get new life

 While operating under bankruptcy protection, Hostess Brands Inc. decided earlier this year it would wind down its operations and shut down production of iconic brands such as Twinkies, Wonder Bread, Ding Dongs, and Ho Hos. That decision closed retail outlets in Northwest Indiana and shut down related distribution services of the products.

The company said earlier this month it expects entities to bid on specific brands or product groups, but the company likely wouldn't remain together.

Physician group joins hospital system

In a transaction valued between $15 million and $25 million, the physicians group Medical Specialists joined Franciscan Alliance, the largest hospital system in Northwest Indiana.

Dr. Alexander Stemer remained president of what became Franciscan Medical Specialists. The group's employees remained and maintained their benefits.

Gene Diamond, CEO of Franciscan Alliance’s Northern Indiana Region, said the physicians group was a good match for Franciscan.

Stemer said Franciscan Medical Specialists will serve as a specialty arm in the northern region, recruiting and placing qualified physicians where they are most in need.

“The land beneath our feet in health care is shifting,” he said. “We'll be looking for physicians looking to join larger organizations.”



Supreme Court upholds key parts of ACA

The Supreme Court in June upheld almost all of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, including the core requirement that nearly every American have health insurance.

The 5-4 decision meant the overhaul could proceed and pick up momentum over the next several years, affecting the way countless Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care.

Breaking with the court's other conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts announced the judgment that allows the law to go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans.

Roberts explained the court's view of the mandate as a valid exercise of Congress' authority to "lay and collect taxes." The administration estimates that roughly 4 million people will pay the penalty rather than buy insurance.

The justices rejected two of the administration's three arguments in support of the insurance requirement. But the court said the mandate can be construed as a tax. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," Roberts said.

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