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Indiana House votes to allow Gary construction waste site near residences

State Rep. Earl Harris, Jr., D-East Chicago, speaks Wednesday in the Indiana House about his plan to allow reclaimed building materials taken from demolished homes in Gary to be stored within 600 feet of residences, instead of the half-mile distance currently required in Lake County. It passed 89-3 and now goes to the Senate.

INDIANAPOLIS — The city of Gary's plan to locate a disposal and recycling facility for construction and demolition waste just 600 feet from residences won overwhelming support Wednesday in the Indiana House.

House Bill 1318, sponsored by state Rep. Earl Harris, Jr., D-East Chicago, was approved 89-3 and now advances to the Senate.

The measure exempts Gary from a state law that only applies to Lake County which requires landfills of any kind be located at least a half-mile from the nearest residence.

Harris said the proposed construction and demolition disposal site is not a landfill in the traditional sense. Rather, it will hold reclaimed building materials, such as brick, stone and wood, until they can be reused, recycled or permanently disposed of.

Potentially dangerous items removed from abandoned homes, such as appliances, asbestos or hazardous waste, will be taken elsewhere for disposal, he said.

Harris explained to his House colleagues that Gary in coming years is planning to use federal funds to demolish up to 6,000 abandoned homes throughout the Steel City.

By having a disposal site in the community, he said Gary can save an estimated $20 million in transportation costs and tipping fees, as well as reaping financial benefits when the materials are recycled or reused.

"This will create jobs in the city of Gary and in Northwest Indiana," Harris said.

State Rep. Dave Wolkins, R-Warsaw, was among the three state representatives voting against the city's plan. He said Harris' measure likely is unconstitutional because it is special legislation that applies only to Gary.

Wolkins suggested a better proposal simply would eliminate Lake County's special half-mile landfill exclusion zone, so its residents would be treated the same as Hoosiers living in the state's 91 other counties.

The Region's legislative delegation objected to that idea due to the anticipated outrage from their constituents.

State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, is Senate sponsor of Harris' proposal. Melton said he understands the concerns he's been hearing about from Gary residents.

"I want my constituents to know that by sponsoring this legislation I will be included in every step of the process as House Bill 1318 moves over to the Senate. I am committed to maintaining transparency with the community as it advances," Melton said.

"I will be in communication with local environmental advocates and the city of Gary to find the best approach to address issues pertaining to this legislation."

The city's proposal for a construction and demolition disposal site at a still to-be-determined location is distinct from a recent state permit application by Maya Energy LLC, to construct and operate a solid waste processing facility at 2727 W. 35th Ave., in Gary.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.