Indiana’s Annual Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund Conference Makes Headway on Drainage Issues

Indiana’s Annual Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund Conference Makes Headway on Drainage Issues

By: Sandra L.Wilmore

There have been major developments in the Town of Pines concerning the Yard 520 Brown Landfill in Porter County, Indiana, just upstream from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. In July 2002, Save the Dunes Council, Hoosier Environmental Council, and the citizens group People in Need of Environmental Safety (PINES) filed a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue the owners of the landfill. The allegation was violations of the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), beginning decades ago when fly ash and other materials were dumped in a wetland area just south of Highway 20 in the Pines. (Fly ash is a by-product of burning coal to make electricity.)

In early January of this year, after many meetings, the EPA, Brown Inc., and Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCo.) entered into a Consent Order. The EPA is currently supplying bottled water to 30 residences about a mile north and northeast of the landfill. Under the Consent Order a water line is being constructed that will provide public water from Michigan City to one third of the Pines residents. This line is expected to be complete by December 2003.

It has been proven that metal contaminants from the landfill tainted over 130 residential wells north of Highway 20, with boron being the most prevalent contaminant. Tests conducted in the area registered high levels of both boron and manganese in a landfill well, including areas where contaminated liquids seeped to the surface, polluting nearby Brown Ditch. EPA also documented the level of boron in Brown Ditch downstream of the landfill at 100 times the level upstream. Brown Ditch flows through the Town of Pines and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore before entering Lake Michigan.

“We are pleased the Consent Order has been filed”, said Tom Anderson, Executive Director of Save the Dunes Council.“We are encouraged that NIPSCo joined the cleanup effort on their own, but this is just the first step.We will continue our involvement in this issue until we are sure the site is contained and that impacts to the National Lakeshore and Lake Michigan are eliminated.”

The Consent Order is also only a first step for many Pines residents, who are planning a multi party suit against NIPSCo, Brown Inc., and an unidentified third company believed to be involved in handling waste material that may have led to the contamination. About 56 residents have indicated interest in joining the suit and sharing in the expense. They are seeking compensation for property damage under RCRA and for personal injury resulting from decades of groundwater contamination. Other possible outcomes are a civil fine and remedial cleanup action.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.