GARY — A bill that allows the city to locate a construction and demolition waste site just 600 feet from homes drew strong opposition Wednesday night at a legislative town hall.
The well-attended public forum drew at least 100 people to Glen Theater, where five state lawmakers representing northern Lake County updated constituents on the work of the Indian General Assembly.
House Bill 1318, which recently passed the Indiana House overwhelmingly, essentially exempts Gary from existing state law that bans landfills from being within a half-mile of Lake County homes.
Gary residents, environmental activists, and Sam Henderson, staff attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council, were among those who spoke against the bill Wednesday.
Many argued the state’s “1/2 mile” rule was designed specifically to protect Lake County communities against poorly-controlled landfills near their homes.
“Why was it necessary to go in and change the law having to do with proximity? That law … was enacted for a purpose. It had to do with all the environmental violations that were going on in Lake County,” Carolyn McCrady, of Gary, said.
Supporters, including bill sponsor Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, argued the bill is critically beneficial to Gary’s plans to demolish more than 6,500 abandoned homes.
Noting the city’s long troubled history of irresponsible dumping, Henderson argued the bill, in actuality, is creating yet another dump site in Gary that will accept waste from outside the city's limits.
Moans and groans could be heard in the audience when Harris Jr. said a site that accepts construction/demolition materials from other cities could be a nice revenue stream for Gary.
The site could also save the city an estimated $20 million in transportation costs and tipping fees for demolition material.
Right now, disposal and transportation costs up to $4,000 per demolition, Freeman-Wilson said.
“You know, everybody has come up and said, ‘Yeah, we have a blight problem,” but I don’t think people recognize we have a $100 million blight problem,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Freeman-Wilson assured residents that site location will be fully vetted.
“We know there are clearly some inappropriate places. You can say that you could be within a half mile of a residence, but it still might an appropriate place that would not reduce the value of your home,” Freeman-Wilson said.
“It’s not like the bill passes and people get to open up shop the next day,” she added. Site selection and project details would have to be approved by the city council, the city’s sanitary district board and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, she said.
Rev. Delwyn Campbell, of Gary, said the bill’s current language doesn’t provide for enough safeguards.
“Based on the reading of this bill, I don’t see how this legislation provides the protection in regard both to environmental issues, with regard to the proper and logistically safe disposal of these issues … What guarantee do we have? Because I haven’t met anybody who has said ‘I like this bill.’” Campbell said.
The bill now heads over to the Senate.
Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, said, he was open to discussion about amendments.