HAMMOND | A new owner has bought a large chunk of the former State Line Energy plant property in Hammond, including the historic Art Deco generating station where workers burned coal to produce electricity for more than eight decades.
Environmental groups fear the site on Lake Michigan's southern shore may be used to store the oil refining byproduct petcoke, but the new owner is not yet saying what is planned for the site.
Sam Townline Development Inc. bought a 34-acre parcel of the sprawling State Line Energy site at the Illinois border, including the power plant building that shut down last year because energy company Dominion Resources was unwilling to invest in federally mandated pollution controls. Sam Townline's principals are the owners of Hammond's Beemsterboer Slag Corp., which has recently come under fire for storing petcoke from the Whiting BP refinery on Chicago's Southeast side.
Whatever happens with the property, it likely will not be used as a coal-fired power plant going forward. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has pulled its permit to release air pollutants.
Beemsterboer Slag Corp. and Sam Townline Development Inc. owner Alan Beemsterboer did not return messages for comment.
Sam Townline Development Inc. acquired the western half of the 77-acre State Line Energy site in August, according to the Lake County Recorder's Office.
Business incorporation records filed with the Indiana Secretary of State's office show Sam Townline Development is owned by Alan Beemsterboer and Simon Beemsterboer, who are also the registered owners of Beemsterboer Slag Corp. Both businesses are also registered at the same address of 3411 Sheffield Ave. in Hammond.
Texas-based BTU Solutions, which specializes in decommissioning power plants, bought the land in 2012 after Dominion closed down the coal-fired electric generating station. BTU Solutions still owns the eastern part of the site, including where the massive coal pile used to be, according to country property records.
The former power plant, which was long owned by Commonwealth Edison, sits on an peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan at the border of Hammond and Chicago.
Alan Beemsterboer, of Orland Park, and Simon Beemsterboer, of Mokena, are the president and vice president of Sam Townline Development, the new owner of the power plant. They are also registered as the principals of Beemsterboer Slag Corp., a family-owned company that been processing slag aggregate at multiple locations in Northwest Indiana and Chicago for more than 70 years. The business takes molten waste from steel mills, crushes it into pellets and recycles it for a variety of uses, including roads, construction backfill and farmland soil additives.
Recently, the company faces a number of lawsuits for its role in the storage of huge exposed heaps of petcoke along the Calumet River on Chicago's South Side, where residents have complained about thick clouds of blast dust being blown into their neighborhoods. Beemsterboer Slag Corp. and other companies have been transporting petcoke that is being produced in much higher volumes at the BP Whiting Refinery, which is now processing more heavy crude oil from Canada. BP has estimated the refinery will go from producing 700,000 tons of petcoke a year to 2.2 million tons per year, once the modernization project is complete.
The State Line Energy plant is about two miles away from the Beemsterboer Slag Corp.'s petcoke piles at 2900 E. 106th St. in Chicago. The generating station also is about five miles northwest of the BP Whiting Refinery and lies along the same railroad tracks.
BP's refinery will soon triple the amount of petcoke it produces each year, and all the extra material will have be stored somewhere before it is shipped out to less environmentally regulated foreign counties that burn it like coal, said Natural Resources Defense Council deputy director Josh Mogerman.
"While it's not entirely clear what will happen at the facility, there are concerns about it being transformed into a petcoke storage facility, given the uproar over the piles of petcoke along the Calumet River," he said.
Mogerman said petcoke storage may not be the highest and best use of prominent lakefront property, especially when a green belt of trails and parkland is being planned between Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Petcoke also potentially could contaminate the lake through runoff or particulate being blown off of heaps of the powdery industrial byproduct.
"It's a source of drinking water for millions and a recreational mecca for the region," he said. "It would raise questions about what infrastructure would be in place to protect the public."
No one has requested any state permits to do anything at the former State Line Energy plant site yet, said Dan Goldblatt, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Indiana requires permits for petcoke storage, and state regulations would require that it be contained and not left in open-air piles, as it has been in Chicago, Goldblatt said.
"The material must be enclosed and cannot leave the property," he said. "It can't just blow away or be carried away by rainwater into a body of water."