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A street in the West Calumet Housing Complex

Calumet residents win public hearing on demolition of housing complex

Contributed By:The 411 News

Residents in neighborhoods near site worried about environmental impact of massive teardown

Demands of residents in East Chicago’s EPA superfund site were granted this week when housing officials announced a public hearing will be held on the proposed demolition of the West Calumet Housing Complex.

Following HUD and the East Chicago Housing Authority’s determination that the demolition would have “no significant impact on the human environment,” community groups objected.

Calumet Lives Matter, Calumet Coalition Community Advisory Group, and the Community Strategy Group, representing residents living in the US Lead Superfund Site, were alarmed by the Remedial Action Plan, a 65-page technical document assessing the impact of removing 107 residences, administrative structures, pavements, utilities and soil in the 79-acre housing complex that opened for occupancy in 1972. Remediation includes grading the site to meet storm water runoff requirements, topped with top soil and seeded.

HUD and the local housing authority yielded to residents’ demands after environmental attorneys for the groups asked that greater considerations be given to the 13,600 residents living in a 1-mile radius of the housing complex, scheduled for demolition later this year.

In a letter from the groups’ legal advisors requesting a public hearing, housing officials were reminded of federal regulations governing actions that affect minority and low-income populations and when there is “Substantial environmental controversy concerning the proposed action or substantial interest in holding the hearing." Within that 1-mile radius, 96% of the residents are minority, 60% are low income, and 26% have less than a high school diploma.

Rev. Cheryl Rivera, the executive director of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations is also a coordinator for the community groups. Rev. Rivera said, “The EPA has approved the RAP. How can they approve this without community input?”

After the city of East Chicago’s decision to demolish West Calumet Housing in July 2016, the EPA advised neighboring residents in the superfund site to formally set up community groups to develop common concerns and goals, and to receive and share communications and information about the cleanup. The community groups only learned about the environmental assessment from a newspaper legal notice.

West Calumet had more than 1000 residents last July. A week ago, only two families remained.

Residents have questions about the containment of toxic materials during the demolition. How will residents in neighborhoods surrounding the housing project be protected from the dust and debris of removing building materials containing asbestos?

Neighboring residents want answers on how lead and arsenic laden dust particles from excavating the structures, pavements, and underground utilities will be controlled. Sam Henderson, an attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council termed particles as “fugitive dust” when it becomes airborne and is dispersed by the wind.

Since August 2016, relocated tenants of the housing complex and residents of the nearby communities in the superfund site have been provided with free legal advice by the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, Environmental Advocacy Clinic and Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law, and Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

Housing officials also extended the time to respond and comment on the Remedial Action Plan. The notice announcing the RAP was dated May 26 and gave a June 13 deadline to reply. Residents’ legal advisors asked for a 30-day extension. Housing officials changed the date to July 6.

The public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, June 26 at the former Carrie Gosch Elementary School, adjacent to the housing complex at 455 East 148th Street, East Chicago.

Also this week, Rachel Bassler, the Press Officer for EPA Region 5 announced the agency will begin hosting monthly meetings to update the community on current activities and answer questions. The first meeting is scheduled for June 24 at the Gosch school site.

The US Lead Superfund Site is divided into 3 zones. Zone 1 is the entire West Calumet Housing Complex and the former Carrie Gosch Elementary School. EPA testing showed this zone contained soils with the highest levels of lead and arsenic contamination. Zones 2 and 3 are residential neighborhoods east of Zone 1.

Superfund site boundaries are Chicago Avenue on the north, east to Parrish Avenue, south to 151st Street, and west to the Indiana Harbor Canal.

Story Posted:06/16/2017

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