PORTAGE — The Indiana Dunes National Park and city of Ogden Dunes are closing beaches after numerous dead fish were seen belly up Thursday.
The National Park Service is closing the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk beach area and water out to 300 feet until further notice.
The fish kill was caused by a spill of an unknown substance into the east branch of the Little Calumet River on Wednesday, according to the NPS. Officials are still working to identify the substance.
In addition, portions of the Little Calumet River between Ind. 149 and Ind. 249 are closed. However, walking trails will remain open.
The Ogden Dunes Town Council also closed Ogden Dunes beach, saying people should stay off the beach and away from the lakefront until further notice.
Indiana American Water restricted water intake at the Ogden Dunes filtration plant, causing the town's water distribution to be unaffected, the Ogden Dunes Police Department wrote in an announcement. The decision was a precaution while state officials conducted a cleanup in the nearby east branch of the Little Calumet River.
"We were not previously made aware of the fish kill, however, we perform continuous real-time monitoring at our Ogden Dunes treatment facility, and have seen no impact on the raw water parameters we are monitoring for at this location or on our finished water quality," External Affairs Manager Joe Loughmiller said when contacted by The Times earlier Thursday.
"We have spoken with a representative from the (Indiana Department of Environmental Management) emergency response team on site and are awaiting additional information from them as their investigation progresses," he said.
The facility is one of two treatment plants that provides drinking water to much of the Region. The other facility is in Gary. Water from both facilities are pumped into the same system.
Until the cause has been determined, the affected areas will remain closed, the NPS said. Officials also cautioned that people should avoid eating fish from the impacted water.
IDEM and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources asked the public Thursday afternoon to avoid the east branch of the Little Calumet River in Portage while state environmental officials conduct a cleanup.
ArcellorMittal issued a statement Thursday saying dead fish were found near Burns Ditch at the southern end of the Burns Harbor facility, prompting water sampling. Preliminary results indicated cyanide and ammonia "exceedances of permitted limits," the statement read.
"We are still investigating whether these constituents are a contributing factor and what the source of these exceedances might be. We will continue to work closely with the agencies involved and provide updates as appropriate."
The company was also notified of an oil presence at the Port of Indiana Wednesday, and said the source and quantity of it are unknown at this time. The spill was contained, and no oil leaked outside of the port, the company said.
Lake Station resident Janice McMullen told The Times when she arrived Wednesday morning at her boat in the Marquette Yacht Club in Portage, she noticed emergency officials gathered at the nearby Sammie L. Maletta Public Marina.
McMullen said she didn't think much of it until she looked down into the water and saw a large number of fish belly up and swimming in circles.
"There are dead fish everywhere," she said Thursday morning. "They're up on shore, under the docks. I'm saying there are probably hundreds of fish."
McMullen said it appeared to her the seagulls in the area were avoiding the water. She was surprised that with the emergency response Wednesday there had been no official announcement sooner of the problem. She said this concerns her because she and others swim and fish in the area.
The NPS said they have staff on scene who are closely monitoring the situation and the agency will provide an update as more information becomes available.