HAMMOND | The mayor is vowing that new business growth in Griffith, Highland and Whiting will remain in the toilet until those municipalities resolve their sewer rate dispute with Hammond.
"If Griffith or any other customer community wants to open another business and add more wastewater to the problem we have already, the Hammond Sanitary District will not be issuing any new source certifications until this litigation is complete," Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said Thursday.
"Everything is on hold until then."
Griffith Councilman Rick Ryfa said Griffith won't stand for that.
"We have a developer looking at building approximately 100 homes, so this is a cause for concern. We cannot allow Hammond to stifle business development in Griffith and will react accordingly," Ryfa responded.
They are the latest salvos in a war of words among the communities that depend on the Sanitary District to treat their wastewater but disagree over how much it should cost.
Hammond and Munster, which operate the district, want Griffith, Highland and Whiting to shoulder some of the cost of millions of dollars committed to stem the dumping of untreated sewage into the Grand Calumet River during storms, by increasing their payments to the Sanitary District.
Griffith, Highland and Whiting prefer to pay the old rates that have been locked in place for nearly two decades and would remain for years to come under their current Sanitary District contract.
Threats and counter-threats led to litigation. Last week, a Lake Superior Court judge ordered all the communities to submit their disputes to a panel of arbitrators. McDermott said Hammond is appealing that order.
"That appeal could take up to a year. During the year, sewer certification will not be issued. No way," McDermott said.
Nick Kile, an attorney for Griffith, said if new sewer taps are denied, the town will submit that to arbitration.
"The mayor can say what he wants, but he has been ordered to arbitrate this dispute," Kile said.
Griffith inked an agreement Wednesday with the Gary Sanitary District to explore whether that city could offer wastewater treatment at less cost than Hammond.
McDermott found that ironic in light of Griffith's lobbying for legislation to divorce itself from the cost of supporting food and housing assistance to Calumet Township and Gary's poorest residents. Only Griffith and Gary comprise the township.
"They are willing to send their wastewater to Gary, but refuse to help Gary with their poor-relief effort. They will never be able to get the same deal from Gary they have with Hammond right now," McDermott said.