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Chemical spill in Burns Waterway

A boat makes its way onto Lake Michigan in April 2017, when four beaches were shuttered due to a chemical spill from U.S. Steel.

PORTAGE — Save the Dunes has created a webpage to help residents interested in submitting comments on the proposed consent decree for U.S. Steel's Midwest Plant.

A public comment period on the proposed settlement between the government and steelmaker remains open until June 6.

"Save the Dunes believes the proposed penalties fall short and that additional measures are needed to ensure future protection of Lake Michigan," the webpage states.

Save the Dunes Executive Director Natalie Johnson said the comment period is a meaningful opportunity to significantly affect accountability and future compliance by U.S. Steel.

"Public participation is an opportunity to explain how the spill affected users of Lake Michigan, and whether or not the consent decree is strong enough to ensure an event like this doesn’t happen again," she said. "It is also an opportunity to bring a perspective that maybe the Department of Justice hasn’t had. In the end, the public’s voice betters Lake Michigan’s protection."

Save the Dunes' webpage includes links to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website for the proposed settlement, a fact sheet, a PowerPoint prepared by Ogden Dunes officials and a sample comment letter.

The proposed consent decree includes a $600,000 civil penalty, including $300,000 each for the U.S. and Indiana. However, the Clean Water Act allows for a maximum penalty of $6.5 million, the letter says.

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"A higher financial penalty must be assessed to match the magnitude of the harm done to Lake Michigan and to be a significant deterrent against future violations," the letter states.

Other actions requested in the letter include requirements that U.S. Steel provide updates on compliance during open meetings and meet annually with local emergency planning committees; that a more robust spill prevention and equipment maintenance plan be developed; and the EPA and IDEM commit to issuing a decision on the steelmaker's plans and reports within 30 days.

U.S. Steel's Clean Water Act violations include an April 11, 2017, spill of toxic hexavalent chromium into a waterway about 500 yards from Lake Michigan.

The company blamed an equipment failure for the spill of about 300 pounds of hexavalent chromium, or 584 times the daily maximum limit allowed under state permitting laws.

Under the proposed consent decree, U.S. Steel agreed to improve the wastewater monitoring system, pay a civil penalty of more than $600,000, reimburse several government agencies and pay $240,500 in damages to the National Park Service.

Save the Dunes, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Hoosier Environmental Council and Ogden Dunes are among more than a dozen groups working together to analyze and comment on the proposed settlement.

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