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Speakers line up to ask questions of legislators

You won't look out your door and see a landfill, says mayor

Contributed By:The 411 News

Construction dump site bill overshadows legislative proposals to dissolve Gary school board

Few Gary neighborhoods have escaped the presence of decade’s old burnt-out structures, abandoned homes and other scenes of blight. No wonder that the city’s residents are alarmed about legislation proposed by their mayor to create a dump site somewhere in the city to store debris from demolition projects.

That legislation and other bills that may become law in the 2018 Indiana General Assembly drew an audience of nearly 200 who came to a forum at The Glen Theatre Wednesday night to ask questions and listen to concerns from the public.

The forum was hosted by Democratic House members Vernon Smith, Charlie Brown, and Earl Harris, and by Senate members Lonnie Randolph and Eddie Melton whose constituents live in Gary and nearby communities. Rep. Harris said legislators expected House Bill 1318, the legislation creating the dump site in Gary would dominate the night’s conversation.

Rep. Harris, sponsor of HB 1318, along with Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who was in the audience, answered most of the questions about the bill. Both said much misinformation was being spread about the bill.

The mayor wants to amend state law to permit the location of the dump site for construction debris from the city’s demolition projects. Current state statue stipulates that in Lake County, a dump site must be at least one-half mile from a residential area. HB 1318 would allow the dump site to be placed closer to a residential area, only in Gary.

Answering questions from residents and environmentalists, “You won’t look out your front door and see a construction debris site across the street,” the mayor said, “and no one is attempting to create a landfill that accepts solid wastes.”

The construction and debris site fits in the city’s plan to reduce demolition costs. Twenty percent of the costs to demolish a residential structure go to debris transportation and disposal at a dump site outside of the city. For a commercial structure, those costs rise to 30%. Having its own dump site eliminates those costs and will result in savings that will allow the demolition of more structures. Also, the site would accept construction debris from other communities, creating a revenue stream.

HB 1318 states only construction materials such as woods, bricks, stones, and metals would be accepted at the site. Mayor Freeman-Wilson said the city has 6,000 vacant and abandoned homes that need to be demolished.

Some opposition and concerns about the bill, the mayor reckoned comes from a lack of trust. “There is a history here, that long preceded me. Because of that history, it’s hard for you to trust people. But you have a voice in this process.”

Every concern expressed, the mayor said, will be addressed in the legislation, in the city’s zoning division, in the city council, and in the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management.

“People think it’s a done deal in the legislature,” said Rep. Charlie Brown, “but it’s not. This is a long, long process and will be another year, or more, before this goes through all the hoops.”

Gary and Lake County have a history of closed dump sites that have violated landfill regulations and for that reason, the state imposed the half-mile rule on the county to protect residential neighborhoods.

HB 1318 overshadowed legislation proposing to eliminate the Gary Board of School Trustees. That bill, HB 1315 targets the two school corporations that are now under state control, in Gary and Muncie. Outside of comments from the panel of legislators, Gary Teachers Union president Glen Eva Dunham was the only voice on the bill.

Dunham called it “a dangerous bill” that will also undo efforts to hire new teachers for the district. “With this bill, teachers we hire in August can be fired in September. We won’t be able to attract teachers.” Currently, teachers in the Gary school district cannot be terminated until thirty days before the school year ends, usually falling in the month of May.

“I’ve been working with the emergency manager recruiting new teachers from Purdue and Indiana University,” Dunham said. “This bill works in opposition to what we’re trying to do.”

New gun permit requirements, re-entry programs for felons returning to their communities, and concerns about Lake County’s vehicle emissions testing drew some audience comments.

Story Posted:02/10/2018

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