GARY | A small group of protesters sought to halt construction work on a sewer rehabilitation project Monday as a sign of displeasure with the lack of city residents on key construction projects.
But Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District said work is continuing despite the criticisms.
Ron Matlock, Gary resident and Calumet Township Advisory Board member, said he and about nine other people blocked construction activity from occurring at the project site early Monday morning near 6th Avenue and New Hampshire Street in the city's Glen Ryan section.
Matlock said he didn't believe the contractor and subcontractors were using an adequate number of Gary residents although the city provided 25 percent of the money for the project.
"We have high unemployment and underemployment," Matlock said. "We have qualified people who could not do the contract."
Construction work began in September on the sewer rehabilitation project to install hundreds of feet of new pipe and a new drainage system and regrade a section of roadway. During a project groundbreaking event in September, Freeman-Wilson was among people praising the upgrades since they would help reduce street and basement flooding and sewer backup problems for about 400 homes.
When reached for comment Monday, city spokeswoman Chelsea Whittington said the mayor didn't have additional comment on the matter.
The Army Corps awarded a $846,987 construction contract to Cookeville, Tenn.-based Fuel Tank Maintenance Co. LLC in May. A company representative deferred comment on the matter to the corps when reached by phone Monday.
Based on contract language, the Army Corps' Chicago District verified that minority participation goals are being met on the project and that local subcontractors with Gary addresses are working on the project, said Imad Samara, Army Corps project manager via email.
Samara said if the protests did stop work, the contractor would have to notify the Army Corps within 10 days and provide detailed accounting of the situation to seek an extension on work.
Faith-based and community groups such as the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations have been vocal in recent years about the need for higher levels of minorities and residents from hard-hit economic areas participating on public works projects in Northwest Indiana.
Matlock said he is planning additional work stoppages at the site Tuesday and other job sites as well to highlight his cause.