The survival of a little boy who was consumed by a sand dune at Mount Baldy was the story that remains the most intriguing of 2013.
Nathan Woessner, 6, of Sterling, Ill., was the site of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore near Michigan City on July 12, when the dune on which he was playing collapsed, sending the boy some 11 feet completely under sand.
It took rescuers some three hours to dig Nathan out from underneath the sand. He was transported to The University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital and initially in a coma. Nathan remained in the hospital for 11 days before being released. He has recovered from the incident.
The collapse of the dune has left scientists baffled. Equipment was brought in to determine why it collapsed, but no answers have, as yet, been found.
Mount Baldy remains closed to the public.
NWI sees share of record economic development in state
Indiana signed deals with a record 261 companies, which pledged to invest $2.63 billion in their Indiana operations.
Tec Air, a manufacturer of plastic air movement components, invested $12 million to move 258 jobs from Illinois to Munster. Munster also landed job commitments from Carl Buddig and Co.and MAC Medical Supply Co.
Horizon Financial Management, a medical billing company, planned to create 216 jobs in Merrillville. Pratt Industries announced plans for a paper recycling facility in Valparaiso that would create 137 jobs by 2018. Falk PLI Engineering and Surveying intended to hire 34 more people at its Portage headquarters.
LaPorte County was slated to gain 265 jobs by 2016 as five companies expanded operations: Hearthside Food Solutions, a snack and baked goods manufacturer; Dwyer Instruments; Harrison Electric; Calumet Pallet Co.; and The American Licorice Co.
NIRPC gives green light to Illiana Expressway
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission in December voted to include the Illiana Expressway in its 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan by a 29-8 vote.
The vote cleared the way to complete planning studies that will be submitted for federal approval early next year. If those approvals come through, construction of the 47-mile bistate toll road could start as soon as 2015.
Some drama was lent to the NIRPC vote by the use of "weighted" voting, in which each member's voting power is determined by the population of their municipality. By that score, the Illiana succeeded on a 76-20 vote.
BP completes Whiting Refinery project
BP completed a $4.2 billion modernization of its Whiting refinery, so it could process more heavy crude oil from Canada.
As many as 14,000 construction workers descended on Whiting during the peak of the project, which local business officials credited with saving the construction industry in the region during the economic downtown. Work began in 2008, which involved installing 380 miles of pipe, 1,200 pieces of major equipment, 60,000 shop-fabricated modules and 50,000 tons of steel.
The facility got a 102,000 barrel-per-day petroleum coker, the second-largest in the world. Major construction was finished near the end of the year, but the refinery was not expected to ramp up to full capacity until early 2014.
BP agrees to $7 million settlement
BP agreed to pay $7 million to settle a class-action lawsuit over bad gas that came from the Whiting Refinery the previous summer.
The company had recalled about 4.7 million gallons of contaminated gasoline that had been sold at more than 575 gas stations throughout the Midwest. Thousands of drivers who filled up with the tainted gas faced big repair bills for a variety of automotive maladies, including damaged engines and gunked-up fuel systems.
BP already paid out $16 million to resolve more than 16,800 consumer claims, and settled the case to avoid drawn-out litigation.
BP blended the bad gas in Whiting, where higher-than-normal levels of polymeric residue, or large hydrocarbon molecules, passed through the refinery. The bad gasoline was distributed in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Gary airport privatization effort ramps up
In April, a joint city/airport committee began a drive to privatize Gary/Chicago International Airport's development with a goal of landing a $100 million investment for the airport.
In September, the committee picked two bid teams with deep experience in aviation and development to face off for the job. In October, the committee announced it would negotiate exclusively with the bid team led by Aviation Facilities Co. Inc., of Dulles, Va.
At its last meeting in December, the Airport Authority approved the terms of an airfield management contract and a development contract with AFCO. The deal calls for $25 million in new investment in the next three years but puts the $100 million goal on hold until a plan can be developed.
The Airport Authority likely will host a public hearing on the deal and then may vote on approving the final contracts in January.
Gary/Chicago Intentional Airport expansion delayed
In July, city of Gary and airport officials announced they would miss the year-end deadline for finishing the airport's $166 million runway expansion project. A new deadline of September 2014 was announced.
City officials attributed the delay to worse-than-expected pollution at the site of the 1,900-foot runway expansion. In the following months it emerged that key agreements to move railroad tracks blocking the runway expansion are also lacking.
The Airport Authority continues to negotiate cleanups of contamination with the Environmental Protection Agency, Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Federal Aviation Administration. Negotiations with railroads also continue, with the airport recently hiring a second law firm to work on the problem.
The BP Whiting Refinery started producing far more petroleum coke after it was upgraded to process more heavy crude oils. The powdery byproduct of oil refining was stored in open-air heaps along the banks of the Calumet River on Chicago's Southeast Side, waiting to be shipped abroad, where it is burned to generate power in countries with laxer environmental regulations.
Black dust flew into homes and neighborhoods, and residents complained it was so thick they could not open windows in the summer. A flurry of lawsuits followed. Hammond-based Beemsterboer Slag Co. reached an agreement with Chicago's mayor and the Illinois attorney general to remove the huge piles of petcoke.
Petcoke contains heavy metals, and inhaling it can cause respiratory problems.
In June, The Times reported on the story behind an historic local photograph from 1948 that shows four children sitting on the steps of a Chicago home, behind a sign reading “4 Children For Sale Inquire Within.”
The story chronicled how the children were separated, how their lives turned out and how a May reunion at one of the siblings' Hessville home would be the last time two of the sisters would see each other.
Cady Marsh oil sheen prompts investigation
An oil sheen appeared on Cady Marsh Ditch in April, prompting an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The 7-mile drainage ditch traverses Calumet Township, Griffith, Highland and Munster. Investigators from the Lake County Hazardous Materials Team and the Lake Ridge Fire Department inspected R.A. Oros Inc., 4200 W. 45th Ave. in Munster and discovered a sheen flowing from leaking totes containing diesel fuel and concrete-forming lubricants in the storm drain and Cady Ditch.
The company elected to clean up the issue themselves and with contractors.
A report from the EPA released in July showed R.A. Oros likely was not to blame and that other sources contributed to the sheen. Because the sheen disappeared quickly after mitigation began, the true source was never determined.
Glittery film closes Lake Michigan beaches
Beachgoers found themselves covered in a dark, sticky, glittery film after swimming in Lake Michigan in Porter and LaPorte counties this summer.
The substance was found floating on the lake near the Porter Beach shoreline June 17 and again July 17.
Indiana Department of Environmental Management and U.S. Coast Guard representatives said the plume was 2 miles long and a half mile wide but quickly dissipated or sank to the bottom of the lake.
Tests showed the substance contained an anti-caking agent used as a food additive and in industrial products.
The investigations prompted swim advisories and beach closures at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park.
Veteran superintendents retire in 2013
Several long-term and well-known local school superintendents retired this year. In some cases, new people were brought in and in others, school leaders who had been with the district for many years moved up.
Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux retired after 29 years with the district. Assistant Superintendent Mark Sperling became the new superintendent.
Highland Superintendent Mike Boskovich retired. Brian Smith replaced him.
Former East Chicago school Superintendent Mike Harding retired effective Oct. 30. Valparaiso Superintendent Mike Berta announced late in the year he would retire in August 2014. Munster Superintendent Richard Sopko will retire in June 2014.
Two top voucher schools earn F grades from IDOE
GARY | Ambassador Christian Academy in Gary earned an F as its grade for 2013.
The grades for public and private schools were released by the Indiana Department of Education after the state board voted during a public meeting.
Ambassador, a private religious school established by Embassies of Christ in Gary, became well known three years ago when its enrollment ballooned as a result of the state's voucher program. Today, it has 370 students.
Indiana passed its school voucher law in 2011. School vouchers, also called the Choice Scholarship, allow a student to use state dollars — previously distributed to public schools — to attend any private school.
The program, in its third year, has more than 9,300 students using vouchers across the state.
In Northwest Indiana, Ambassador and St. Stanislaus School in East Chicago have drawn the most students to the program. In the 2012-13 school year, 159 students at Ambassador were using vouchers. The school received $709,743.71 on their behalf. St. Stanislaus also earned an F. In the 2012-13 school year, St. Stanislaus had 114 students using vouchers and received $491,603.96.
State superintendent decries states taking over local schools
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz does not support a state takeover of failing schools like her predecessor. Instead, she created a division of outreach to help struggling school districts.
More than three years ago, former state Superintendent Tony Bennett made headlines across the country for his take-no-prisoners approach to school reform. Gary Roosevelt High School, which had several years of consecutive academic failure, was taken over by the state, along with schools in Indianapolis. It's now Roosevelt College and Career Academy.
Local outreach coordinators Linda Randolph and Daniel Bundridge, who represent Region 6 — which includes Lake, Porter, Jasper and Newton counties -- are targeting about 50 schools that have D or F grades.
PUC prof part of research team awarded Nobel Prize for physics
HAMMOND | Purdue University Calumet Professor of Physics Neeti Parashar participated on the team of worldwide researchers who discovered the Higgs boson subatomic particle. The Higgs boson, also referred to as the “God particle,” is considered a vital building block for shaping understanding about the composition and interaction of all matter in the natural universe.
Its discovery confirmed the theory of the Higgs field, for which theorists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Parashar, a Munster resident formerly of Batavia, Ill., and an eight-year Purdue Calumet faculty member, managed most of her research efforts and those of several assisting Purdue Calumet students at Fermilab, a national high-energy physics facility in Batavia.
PUC at forefront of history book controversy
HAMMOND | Purdue University Calumet professor David Detmer delved into the controversy created when former Gov. Mitch Daniels tried to eliminate a cultural history book used to prepare teachers to teach.
"A People's History of the United States," by the late Howard Zinn, drew plenty of discussion among students, educators and the community about the issue of censorship, propaganda, history and the role of politics in scholarly research and teaching.
Detmer was a former student of Zinn's. He chose that topic following the publication of emails from Daniels in which the former Indiana governor privately instructed subordinates to make sure Zinn's book would not be "in use anywhere in Indiana."
In the emails, Daniels inquired how to get rid of the book and said, "this crap should not be accepted for any credit by the state." The emails created a firestorm in Indiana and across the country regarding Zinn's book and Daniels' comments.
After publication of the emails, Daniels, now president of Purdue University, denied his action as governor constituted censorship or compromised academic freedom.
Calumet College takes over Gary's Charter School of the Dunes
HAMMOND | Calumet College of St. Joseph assumed sponsorship of the Charter School of the Dunes in July. The school was set to be closed due to academic failure by the Office of Charter Schools at Ball State University.
The school opened its new $13 million building at U.S. 20 and Old Hobart Road. When school grades were released at the end of December, the charter school earned an F.
IDOE works with Gary schools on compliance issues
GARY | The Indiana Department of Education has been working with Gary Community School Corp. since 2008 to resolve compliance issues in the special education department, the most serious among them being poorly written Individualized Education Plans. Other problems include high suspension and expulsion rates, a disproportionate number of students with disabilities, and low numbers of special needs students included in general education.
According to the law, students should be educated in the least restrictive environment along with nondisabled peers as much as possible.
Gary, like other school districts, works with students who have a variety of needs, including autism, developmental delays, physical disabilities and defiant, disruptive or emotional disabilities. State officials said the district is making some improvements.
More communities hold referendums to raise money for schools
A couple of local school districts approved general fund referendums. They include the School Town of Munster and Union Township Schools. Residents in the MSD of Boone Township said no to a tax increase.
In Munster, voters approved raising taxes 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to generate an additional $3 million a year for seven years. The general fund referendum assists the general fund budget, which mostly covers salary and benefits.
In Union Township, voters approved an increase of just less than 22 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to generate an additional $1 million a year for seven years.