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EAST CHICAGO — Residents and attorneys are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a second public hearing on cleanup proposals for the former West Calumet Housing Complex, arguing the agency is otherwise not fulfilling its commitment to fully engage the USS Lead Superfund community.

Many residents did not have opportunity to present oral comments at the first meeting, held Nov. 29 at the East Chicago Public Library Pastrick branch, because of the two-hour time limit, robust participation and the complicated nature of the proposal, members of the East Chicago Calumet Coalition Community Advisory Group said.

EPA is proposing a seven-month, $26.5 million plan for West Calumet that digs to a maximum depth of two feet, treats severely contaminated soil and disposes of it at an off-site location.

The agency has said it could finalize a cleanup plan that includes a contingency, allowing for a less stringent cleanup if the city moves forward with industrial redevelopment instead of residential.

In a letter this week to the EPA, CAG members said the proposed plan includes "an unusual ‘contingency’ under which (EPA) may change the proposed plan even after the public comment period is over."

EPA had indicated the agency will likely rely on the current public comments as sufficient input if plans change at a later date, and will not reopen the comment period.

"EPA is considering another public hearing and extending the deadline to accept public comments on the proposed cleanup plan for zone 1 of the USS Lead Superfund site," an EPA spokesperson stated. 

The public comment portion of the meeting was cut short last week because an earlier Q&A segment produced a multitude of questions about the proposed cleanup, many of which were unanswered, residents said. 

The low-income, environmental justice community has been disproportionately impacted by the long-term exposure to toxins and should be allotted ample time to submit oral comments as not all residents have the resources to submit comments in writing, the CAG argued.

EPA's proposed plan was not preferred by residents, who argue it isn’t protective enough because contamination beneath two feet will remain in place and it does not factor in pending results of EPA’s ongoing study on groundwater contamination. Institutional controls under that plan will impede future redevelopment, residents said.

“Based on the questions and comment presented at the meeting, community acceptable of the preferred alternative is unlikely,” the group wrote.

Residents can submit public comments until Jan. 14. Residents have asked a second meeting be held on a Saturday and at a site within the USS Lead Superfund site or a deadline extension.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.