IDEM citing Hammond bridge dismantler for water violations

Hammond officials said police stopped the man responsible for dismantling the Monon Bridge over the Grand Calumet River in Hammond, dumping steel and creosote-soaked wooden railroad ties into the river.

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HAMMOND | The Whiting man responsible for dismantling the Monon Bridge over the Grand Calumet River without permits said he personally declared the structure abandoned and was doing officials a favor by tearing it down.

"I myself state that this property is abandoned," Kenneth Morrison of Whiting said Wednesday. "It's like a shipwreck. If a ship sinks, that's abandoned and it's fair game."

Local, state and federal officials disagree.

Indiana officials on Wednesday said the state is citing Morrison for violating state water quality standards when he sent creosote-soaked railroad ties into the waterway as he dismantled the structure.

"A letter of violation will be drafted," Dan Goldblatt, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said.

Morrison admits his work dismantling the bridge sent rail ties into the Grand Calumet River.

"We did, but we pulled them out," he said.

The ties officials found in the river, he said, fell into the river earlier due to age and neglect.

"The steel beams had 8 to 10-inch gaps between them before I took them out over the riverbed," Morrison said. "It was a hazard ... How many parents in Hammond want their kids wandering around that kind of place?"

Three Hammond police officers stopped Morrison at the bridge Saturday morning. Morrison allegedly told them he was responsible for dismantling the bridge.

City, state and federal officials began investigating the demolition of the bridge late last week after Ron Novak, director of the Hammond Department of Environmental Management, received a tip saying scrappers were taking it down in the remote industrial area near Marble Street.

City officials said Morrison was unable to provide any permits for the work. Morrison did not have any permits from Hammond or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would be required for a project over the Grand Calumet River, officials said.

Morrison told Novak and Hammond officers he was removing steel from the bridge and selling it to an East Chicago metals company.

Records show Morrison approached city officials at least twice in the last 25 years asking to purchase the bridge so he could demolish it and sell if for scrap. Requests were made in 1991 and in October 2014.

The city declined both times.

Kristina Kantar, attorney for the City of Hammond, said earlier this week the ownership of the bridge is under review. CSX deeded the railroad to the City of Hammond in 1987 as a donation.

The city never filed the donation agreement with the Lake County Recorder's office due to concerns about the property.

Kantar said the city could not agree to sell or donate the bridge to Morrison because it is not clear who owns it.

Novak said Morrison came to his office on Tuesday trying to secure permits for the work. The city issued a stop work order at the site when the unauthorized work was discovered last week.

"Whatever the city of Hammond wants to do or requires of me, I'm trying to get taken care of," Morrison said. "I want to finish it. I'm not going to leave it like it is now."

He acknowledged on Wednesday he did not have permits for the work but maintains he did not need them because, by his account, the structure was abandoned.

Morrison insists he contacted all authorities before he began removing the bridge and that he told the Hammond Board of Works in November that he planned to remove the bridge within 60 days. 

Morrison believes officials would want the structure removed by a private entity.

"It would save a lot of money if this structure was gone," Morrison said.

The bridge, built in 1890, was the last remaining structure of the Hammond Meatpacking Co., one of the city's first industries, Hammond Historical Society members said this week. The bridge carried beef for the company and can be seen in early renderings of the industrial landscape.

"A historic structure is nice, but who is there to take care of or protect it?" Morrison said. 

Local, state and federal officials said Wednesday the work at the site remains under investigation.

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