Plan for Gary construction debris landfill likely will not advance in Indiana Senate

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, speaks Monday during a Senate committee meeting. Melton is sponsor of House-approved legislation authorizing a Gary construction debris landfill to locate within 600 feet of residences that's likely to not advance in the Senate.

Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — A House-approved proposal authorizing a Gary construction debris landfill to be sited just 600 feet from residences likely is doomed in the Indiana Senate.

State Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Affairs, told The Times Monday that he's not inclined to advance House Bill 1318 out of his committee because it's unconstitutional special legislation.

The Indiana Constitution declares that laws should be of a general nature with uniform operation throughout the state. Eckerty said a measure that only applies to Gary does not meet that standard.

Ironically, the legislation actually would put Gary on equal footing with most other Indiana communities, since it exempts the Steel City from a previously enacted law that only applies in Lake County requiring landfills be set back at least a half-mile from nearby houses.

In any case, Eckerty said his committee is not scheduled to convene this week, and may meet only one time before the March 1 deadline for committees to advance proposals to the full Senate, so it probably won't be possible to deal with a proposal that has stirred up as much controversy as the Gary landfill measure.

More than 100 city residents attended a Gary legislative forum last week where many spoke out forcefully against the landfill plan.

City officials at the event contended that having a local site to store construction debris and recyclable material from the 6,000 abandoned homes set for demolition in coming years will save millions of dollars in transportation and dumping costs, while also creating jobs in Gary.

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, the Senate sponsor of the legislation, said he remains committed to working with Gary leaders, community members and his legislative colleagues to find a solution that's acceptable to all.

"I wholeheartedly agree that we need to address our blight situation. But we need to ensure that it's done in an environmentally friendly way," Melton said. "Including the voice of the community in how we do that is going to be important."

Even if the Gary landfill proposal ultimately fails to win Senate approval, it still passed the House, 89-3, on Jan. 31.

That means the language of the House measure can be inserted in March in other legislation through the conference committee process, where representatives and senators work out compromises on plans that passed each chamber with similar, but not identical, provisions.

Any conference committee report that might include a Gary construction debris landfill still would have to be approved by both the full House and Senate to advance to the governor for his consent or veto.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.