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Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank, a member of Calumet Lives Matter, urges EPA to select a more stringent cleanup plan for West Calumet at a public meeting Thursday night. The $48.8 million cleanup plan removes soil and debris left over from the lead smelter demolished and buried there years ago to depths reaching clean native sand, disposes of it at an off-site location and treats the most contaminated soil using chemical stabilization. 

EAST CHICAGO — The federal government shutdown has forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cancel an upcoming public hearing on cleanup proposals for the former West Calumet Housing Complex.

EPA spokeswoman Rachel Bassler sent out a news release this week, saying EPA has cancelled the public hearing set for Thursday, Jan. 10, due to the government shutdown, which was heading into its 11th day on Monday.

A lively public meeting at the local library in late November was cut short because of the hearing’s two-hour time limit, robust participation and the complicated nature of the proposal, leaving many residents’ questions unanswered.

Since that time, a community group successfully appealed to EPA to hold another hearing. They argued EPA would otherwise not be fulfilling its commitment to fully engage the lead- and arsenic-contaminated USS Lead Superfund community.

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 to the EPA, CAG members said the proposed plan includes the unusual contingency that allows the agency to change course on cleanup levels if city leaders change their minds on the property’s future use.

EPA's proposed plan is not preferred by residents. Residents 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 have said.

Though he's long maintained he wanted the site cleaned to residential standards, Mayor Anthony Copeland sent a letter to EPA earlier this year to let them know of two interested industrial/commercial developers.

The EPA has said it has no authority over Mayor Anthony Copeland’s plans for the former public housing site and always aligns Superfund site cleanup with the local property owner’s future use. In this case, the owner is the city and the housing authority. 

His desire to have the property cleaned to residential standards has not changed, though he is open to all ideas about the highest, best possible use for the property, city officials have said. 

Residents can submit public comments until Jan. 14, and have several options to weigh in: 

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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.