HAMMOND | A bridge in Hammond partially dismantled earlier this year by a man who did not have permits to do so is now gone, and local and federal officials allege the same man is to blame.
Ron Novak, director of the Hammond Department of Environmental Management, said Kenneth Morrison, of Whiting, allegedly returned to the Monon Bridge over the Grand Calumet River and removed the rest of the bridge.
Local, state and federal officials said no permits were ever issued by the city for the work and a federal criminal investigation is underway.
Novak alleged Morrison entered the remote property northwest of Hohman Avenue and Industrial Road via an arrangement with an adjacent property owner in the first block of Industrial Road.
"At various times within the last three to four weeks, he has dismantled the bridge," Novak said. "We went out there and took photos of work in the area and saw Mr. Morrison there."
Morrison could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Morrison was cited in February by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for violating state water quality standards when he removed a portion of the Monon Bridge without permits for the work, sending creosote-soaked railroad ties into the waterway in the process.
In February, Morrison admitted to The Times that he dismantled the bridge without permits, but insisted he did nothing wrong in doing so.
"I myself state that this property is abandoned," Morrison said in February. "It's like a shipwreck. If a ship sinks, that's abandoned and it's fair game."
Morrison said he was selling the steel from the bridge to an East Chicago metals company.
Novak said three weeks ago the bridge on the south side of the river was 90 percent gone.
"There's some material in the floodbank along the shoreline and on the border of the adjacent properties," Novak said. "He went along the edge of the property and took the material out with a Bobcat and a bulldozer."
Novak said the banks along the river are "tore up."
"There were a lot of wood ties and material put into the river right away so his equipment wouldn't get stuck," Novak said.
Novak said his department turned over its findings to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
"IDEM is looking into reports of damage to the bank and debris in the Grand Cal River," said Dan Goldblatt, spokesman for IDEM, on Tuesday.
Paul Leffler, Lake County project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, confirmed his agency is investigating as well.
Leffler said the work violated two sections of federal code that fall under Army Corps jurisdiction, one regarding work over a navigable waterway and the other regarding negative impacts on water quality in wetlands.
"That did affect water quality," Leffler said.
Leffler said there is a criminal investigation underway by the U.S. EPA as well.
Phillippa Cannon, spokeswoman for the U.S. EPA's Region 5 office in Chicago said, "EPA does not confirm or deny criminal investigations."
Leffler said the Army Corps also cited Morrison for allegedly filling in wetlands adjacent to an abandoned warehouse he owns at 1000 N. Clark Road in Gary.
"This is of concern because it is immediately next to the Clark and Pine Nature Preserve, one of the nicest nature preserves in the state," Leffler said.
Leffler said Morrison has responded and denies the claims.
Morrison approached city officials twice in the last 25 years asking to purchase the bridge so he could take it apart and sell it for scrap. The city declined both times, saying it was not theirs to sell.
Kristina Kantar, attorney for the city of Hammond, said Tuesday she was "amazed" at the recent developments.
"I've never seen anything like it," Kantar said. "It was never ours to give him, and it was never his to take, but it doesn't appear to have stopped him."
The bridge was built in 1890 and was part of the Hammond Meatpacking Co., one of the city's oldest industries.