Calumet residents caught off guard by demolition plan

Contributed By:The 411 News

Community groups want an extension to respond and a public hearing

Now that only 2 families remain in East Chicago’s soon to be demolished West Calumet Housing Complex, neighboring residents have concerns about the impact of the massive tear down.

The housing development consists of 107 residential structures, an administration building, a community center, maintenance facility, guardhouse, and two storage sheds. It was built on land previously the site of a lead smelter, Anaconda Copper Mining Company. West Calumet was first occupied in 1972. In 2016, samplings by the Environmental Protection Agency revealed the soil at the complex was contaminated with extremely high levels of lead and arsenic.

The City of East Chicago rejected EPA’s cleanup plan that would have had residents remain while the soil was replaced. Mayor Anthony Copeland chose to demolish the complex, saying the EPA’s plan would jeopardize the residents’ health.

In 2009, the complex and nearby neighborhoods in the city’s Calumet section were named by the EPA as the US Smelter and Lead Superfund Site.

Tuesday’s emergency meeting, sponsored by Calumet Lives Matter and the Community Strategy Group, was called to discuss the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) for the demolition issued by the East Chicago Housing Authority and HUD, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Rev. Cheryl Rivera, the groups’ coordinator and executive director of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations said they were caught off guard, learning about the plan last week through a newspaper legal notice. “There was no community input in this plan, even though 13,000 people live within a mile of West Calumet.”

The EPA had advised 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 65-page remedial plan includes assessments of the impact of demolition on air and water quality, natural habitat, endangered species, and wetlands. Referring to contamination and toxic substances, the plan states that “The adverse environmental impacts of the demolition activity can be mitigated.”

Sam Henderson, the community groups’ legal adviser from the Hoosier Environmental Council said he wants to know how “fugitive dust” will be contained. Henderson explained that is dust that escapes from digging and demolition that then becomes airborne in the wind.

Rev. Rivera said, “This is our complaint. The EPA has approved the RAP. How can they approve this without community input?” Both community groups are asking for a public hearing on the remediation plan.

The newspaper legal notice, dated May 26, stated that “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has preliminarily determined that the project will have no significant impact on the human environment.” And it included a 15-day period to respond to the RAP.

Rev. Rivera said the groups will also ask for a 30-day extension to respond.

Story Posted:06/08/2017

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