PORTAGE — It could be late Tuesday before city officials learn whether a settlement has been reached regarding a threatened lawsuit against U.S. Steel over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.
Ken Elwood, attorney for the city's Utility Service Board, said at a board meeting Monday that the 60-day deadline for filing a threatened lawsuit against the company was Jan. 13. However, since that was a Saturday and Monday was a holiday, they likely won't know if an agreement was reached until Tuesday.
The notice of a possible lawsuit was filed two months ago by the University of Chicago's Abrams Environmental Law Clinic for repeatedly violating the Clean Water Act at U.S. Steel's Midwest plant for the last six years. The clinic is representing the Surfrider Foundation.
The threat of a lawsuit came after U.S. Steel twice dumped chromium, a byproduct of industrial processes, into the Burns Waterway. The spills occurred in April and October.
The April spill contained hexavalent chromium, a more toxic form of the chemical. It's unknown if the October spill contained hexavalent chromium, because U.S. Steel didn't test for it, records show. The October spill did not come to light until the law clinic filed the notice of intent to sue.
That outraged Portage officials, who had received the word of U.S. Steel officials that the April spill was a one-time incident and that the steelmaker would improve communications with the city. The city learned of the October spill through a newspaper article.
Last month, the USB sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Indiana Attorney General asking they be part of any agreement that may come from the legal action.
Elwood said he hoped to find out Tuesday if an agreement was reached and, if so, have Portage as a party to that agreement. If an agreement was not reached, it would be up to the EPA to file a lawsuit for the violations against the steelmaker. It would be up to the city then to decide if they would join the lawsuit.
Member Mark Oprisko said he has had conversations with Mayor James Snyder and that Snyder has been reaching out to Chicago to work with that city toward a resolution.
Snyder, who was not at the meeting, confirmed he has been in discussion with Chicago officials, but that there was noting to report from those discussions.
"We are feeling out the options. The city doesn't have the financial resources to embark on something on its own. I want to make sure that Portage has a seat at the table when these resolutions are made," Snyder said.