HAMMOND — A Whiting man faces federal charges for allegedly stealing scrap from the Monon Bridge over the Grand Calumet River and selling the material illegally for $18,000.
Kenneth R. Morrison, operating as T&K Metals, was indicted last month on one count of interstate transportation of stolen property, federal court records show.
Morrison's ties to the Monon Bridge date back to 1991, when he first approached the city of Hammond to purchase the bridge for $500 so he could "dismantle and sell the metal for scrap."
A month later, the city's Board of Public Works and Safety denied his request.
Fast forward 22 years later in September 2014, and Morrison "appeared before the (Board of Public Works and Safety) seeking permission to purchase the bridge," records show.
On Oct. 16, 2014, before receiving a response from city officials, Morrison met with the board again and claimed that the property on which the bridge was located was owned by the railroad and that he was negotiating with Norfolk Southern, court records state.
A week later, Morrison allegedly contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claiming the city of Hammond instructed him to consult the agency before removing the bridge.
He was then advised he must obtain proper permits and that EPA did not have authority to grant such.
"Between in or about December 2014 and continuing through in or about January 2015, without authority from the city of Hammond, and without any permit, the defendant dismantled a portion of the bridge and transported and sold the metal to scrap dealers ... in Burnham, Illinois, and East Chicago, Indiana," the indictment alleges.
A Hammond code inspector arrived at the scene of the bridge on Jan. 29, 2015, and put a work stop order on Morrison's dump truck that was parked nearby.
A day later, an Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officer was at the bridge and saw Morrison, who claimed he had a permit to demolish and salvage the bridge, court records show.
After confirming with the city of Hammond he did not have permission to salvage the bridge, the officer ordered him to stop work. A day later, the IDNR officer saw Morrison at the site and ordered him again to stop all work on the bridge.
The Monon Bridge, which was built in 1910, has been owned by several railroad companies throughout its history, including CSX, court records show.
CSX deeded real property, including the bridge, to the city on March 3, 1987, records show. According to The Times archives, the bridge is an important remnant of the city's history. The bridge was the last remnant of the Hammond Meatpacking Co., one of the city's first industries.
Indiana officials cited Morrison in 2015 for violating state water quality standards when he sent creosote-soaked railroad ties into the waterway as he dismantled the structure.
In 2015, Morrison defended his actions in an interview with The Times, arguing the bridge was "like a shipwreck," and that "if a ship sinks, that's abandoned and it's fair game."
He also insisted that by allowing a private entity to remove the structure, he was doing officials a favor by saving the city some money.
Prison time for Philadelphia oil spill
Morrison did prison time for spilling thousands of gallons of oil and tar into a Philadelphia river in the 1990s, according to The Times archives.
Hammond Historical Society officials revealed recently that back in 1995, Morrison was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay $50,000 after he attempted to salvage a metal tank and ended up discharging 2,000 gallons of waste oil into the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania, and another 3,000 into the ground.
The cleanup of the 1993 spill cost an estimated $1.3 million, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
At the time, Morrison was operating as the owner of LaSalle Central Contracting in Pennsylvania. He had told investigators in Pennsylvania he didn’t report the spill into the Schuylkill because it “wasn’t a big deal,” according to Inquirer archives.
Morrison surrendered to authorities on Friday and was released on a $20,000 bond, court records show.