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Part of the Gary/Chicago International Airport has been temporarily transformed into a large parking lot.

The airport struck a deal with Merrillville-based CLR Auto Transport to store Volkswagen cars on the currently unused northwest corner of the 763-acre airport, spokesman David Goldenberg said.

Volkswagen was forced to buy back 500,000 diesel vehicles after an emissions scandal in which it cheated on emissions tests. The auto company can't sell them until it comes up with a way to fix them that satisfies U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulators.

Bloomberg has reported Volkswagens being stored for the time being at places like the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit, a decommissioned Air Force base in California and the Port of Baltimore.

"Overall, we are encouraged by the customer response to the 2.0L TDI settlement program and the exceptional participation rate so far," Volkswagen USA said in a statement. "We're six months into a two-year program and more than half of the 2.0-L TDI vehicles in the United States subject to the Settlement Program have already been removed from the road or have received their initial emissions modification."

Volkswagen said enough cars have been returned that it has to store them in large regional facilities.

"Once a buyback transaction is complete, Volkswagen will remove the vehicle from the dealership and store it at a regional facility," the company said in a statement. "These vehicles will be held and routinely maintained until it is determined whether an approved emissions modification becomes available. If approved, the settlement allows Volkswagen to modify affected 2.0L TDI vehicles so they can be returned to commerce or exported. Vehicles that are not modified must be responsibly recycled."

CLR Auto Transport did not return messages.

"My understanding is these are Volkswagen diesels that failed the emissions test, and are being stored until Volkswagen comes up with a solution and the EPA approves a procedure to fix them," Gary Jet Center owner and Chief Executive Officer Wil Davis said. "It's good they found a use for airport property near the construction area that's not being used."

The airport signed a short-term lease for $12,000 for one month of storage, which could be extended to a year, pending airport board approval, Goldenberg said.

"It's new unplanned revenue for the airport," he said. "It's a responsible interim use for the land while we work on a long-term master plan to contemplate a permanent use of this and other airport property." 

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.