MaiaCo in Gary Update – 1 Feb 2017

After 4 months of silence, MaiaCo is back in the news.

The Gary Redevelopment Commission has voted to approve the MaiaCo action plan for obtaining 3000 tax-delinquent properties in portions of Aetna, Midtown, and Black Oak. Details of the plan were never made public and the promised community liaison position has yet to be filled and announced. The 30 year deal requires MaiaCo to contribute a mere $15 million towards redevelopment in Gary. The NWI Times was first with the story.

Rally For The Whiting 41

The Whiting 41 – the 41 people arrested for trespassing at the BP refinery during the May 2016 Break Free Midwest action – emerged from the Hammond Federal Courthouse to cheers from supporters of renewable energy and environmental justice. Judge Jesse Villalpando commended the defendants’ jovial spirit and dropped all charges, with the condition that none of the 41 are arrested again over the next six months. Post Tribune reporter Becky Jacobs filed a fantastic report that captured the mood in the courtroom and on the streets. The NWI Times and WBEZ also reported on the trial and subsequent action at the office of Indiana Democratic Senator Joseph Donnelly.

Untitled

About 75 people heard speakers including 350 Indiana-Calumet and #Whiting41 member John Halstead, Shelia Gardner of National Nurses United, Joyce Morales Beckett of the American Indian Center (not pictured), and Vince Emanuele of Iraq Veterans Against The War.

Untitled

 

Hammond police and city workers kindly de-iced the sidewalks and alleys; marchers then took to the streets for the short march around the corner to Sen. Donnelly’s office.

Untitled

 

Once at the senator’s office, the assembled group performed a moving and effective street theatre, with loud chants replaced by soft, dynamic singing. I’d never seen anything quite like this in my fifteen years of participating and documenting social justice actions. It was very effective.  

“I hear the voice of my great granddaughter saying ‘keep it in the ground.'”

Untitled

 

Kristin Frank of 350 Indiana-Calumet reads an open letter to Indiana Senator Joseph Donnelly calling on him to reject Trump’s Climate Denying Cabinet.

Calumet Lead Crisis Update – 11 Dec

Community organizing gets the goods. And after successfully pushing East Chicago mayor Anthony Copeland to request disaster relief from the state, organizers with the East Chicago Community Strategy Group continue to voice demands. The Post Tribune featured the political flak after 18 of 45 homes in the Calumet community tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their drinking water. Labor organizer Ruth Needleman posted a full list of the community strategy group’s demands on her Facebook wall.

CBS Chicago’s Dorothy Tucker quotes East Chicago mayor Anthony Copeland as saying the city has “proactively added a new ingredient” to the city’s water treatment and is looking to provide filters for residents. Indiana Public Media also took a look at the burgeoning water crisis in East Chicago.

Today’s NWI Times offers a double feature of much needed historical context to the Calumet lead crisis. Lauren Cross shows that while lead exposure has overall declined nationwide, the odds of testing positive for elevated blood levels for those living in heavy industrialized areas is far greater. The historical extent is unknown and the records are proving hard to come by. The article features an excellent interactive map showing instances of elevated blood levels in children across the three county region.  “We don’t have great surveillance data, so it’s difficult to put in perspective.” says Dr. Bruce Lanphear, who recently spoke in East Chicago.

Sarah Reese takes a fascinating and detailed look at the sordid history of urban renewal projects in East Chicago in the 1960s, drawing from old Times and Chicago Tribune articles, but concludes it is still “unclear whether former officials knew the [environmental] risks associated with the project.”

Calumet Lead Crisis Update – 9 Dec 2016

Drinking water in eighteen homes in East Calumet have tested positive for dangerous levels of lead. This revelation comes after many months of residents and organizers keeping such concerns in the public eye.

In response, Mayor Anthony Copeland has finally asked for an emergency declaration from outgoing Indiana governor Mike Pence and Governor-elect Eric Holcomb. The Times report also notes that the EPA has suspended yard excavations as winter sets in.

The Post Tribune offers a good, long overview of how the crisis went public this summer and the many decades local and state official holders to protect people’s health.

 

Ivanhoe South

IVANHOE SOUTH

An interview with Kris Krouse, executive director of Shirley Heinze Land Trust

Conducted by Samuel Love, 19 April 2013 at Meadowbrook Nature Preserve, Valparaiso, Indiana

“Ivanhoe South is one of our real treasures at Shirley Heinze Land Trust, largely because of the way we acquired the properties. It is unique also from an ecological perspective, it’s extremely biodiverse and has some global significance as a dune and swale habitat. We had several volunteers that started picking up the property at tax sales in the early 1980s. So it’s actually one of the first project areas Shirley Heinze set out to protect.

In 1984 we had the first acquisition, a small lot. And when I say small lot think in terms of a subdivision that platted for development and a parcel that is sold for a house to be built on. That’s exactly what occurred here. It was platted and subdivided. Lots were sold to individuals but it never ended up getting to the stage of having roads put in or houses built on the parcels. So you have this swath of vacant land right in the middle of a city, a very urbanized place with industry nearby, four-lanes roads, and subdivisions.

This is in essence is a puzzle of 300+ parcels that we picked up at tax sales, one by one. In some cases we had funding, in other cases we didn’t, and now we have almost an entirely contiguous 30 acre swath in this area that we’ve protected with the exception of two lots that we’re focused on acquiring. Once they’re acquired we’ll be able to combine almost 30 acres. We were able to work with the City of Gary to vacate the undeveloped streets and alleyways within that platted subdivision., it’s something we worked on for about 10 years where we would approach the city. And I think it’s a reflection of the city’s interest and appreciation of what we’re trying to do.

We still have a challenge in that municipalities apply stormwater management fees to properties. We’re working with the city to come up with an amenable solution to many, many stormwater fees. Actually a pretty substantial amount of money. We’re hopeful that will get addressed soon. But that’s one of the things we’re working on the city with.

We are fortunate to have received funding from The Legacy Foundation and many individual donors to go in an remove tires and shingles and literally dumpsters full of trash and debris that has ended up on this preserve over many, many years. It’s one of the things you inevitably see. Land that is vacant isn’t necessarily managed so you deal with dumping issues and people don’t necessarily appreciate it if they don’t exactly know what the use is. So over the years we have installed a parking lot and put in a trail. There’s signage on the preserve so the residents in the area see it as a resource and we have also set out to conduct community hikes there, to get residents and Northwest Indiana as a whole invested and interested in this project area and our other project areas.”

What were your first impressions of the site?

“I took on a staff position with Shirley Heinze in 2005, so a lot of progress had been made prior to that. What we’ve done since I started with the organization is filling in the gaps by picking up parcels so that we can have more of a nature preserve where we own the property within the project area so it speak. The trails and parking lot, that’s something we really focused on in 2007 and 2008; making it a resource for the public is what I’ve seen transpire there. It’s really great to see people out there using the resource and that’s been a shift for us as an organization where we’re not only protecting the property, restoring it and managing it, but also making available to the public so they can enjoy it as well.

It does have implications when you think of a park where the design is to let people recreate in a natural resource. And what’s even more unique for this area, in some places you have state-listed species, or even things like the federally endangered Karner Blue butterfly that thrives and needs the dune and swale habitat. So the basis where there is value in limiting the access is protecting that particular natural resource and so it’s a little bit of a balancing act. We do have some properties we are very cautious about what the access would be if it’s a determent to any threatened flora and fauna, so it’s a little bit of a balancing act.”

What are future plans for the site?

“There are 12 acres of dune and swale that has been a part of our land acquisition prioritization document that we update and approve every couple of years at the board level. It’s one of our number one priorities and we’re pretty close to seeing that property through to ownership. Hopefully in the next month. And continuing to restore and manage the property. We’re in the process of getting a US Army Corp of Engineers Great Lakes Restoration Initiative project to take place at the site. That will really allow us to do more extensive canopy opening and invasive species and understory removal and planting of native plants to improve the ecology in places were it’s degraded.”

How can these natural areas help cities?

“It’s a great question. I think that Gary is very fortunate to have such ecologically significant resources. When you look at the dozens of municipalities in Northwest Indiana Gary has some of the most pristine natural land in this region. And in those properties that are protected are really a good resources for storm water management. It acts as a filter for stormwater runoff so instead of the city needing to maintain runoff, a place like Ivanhoe South serves that purpose in a natural way. It’s also acting as filter so that the water that works its way thru the system, and the hydrology of the system, is cleaner when it comes out than what it would be if it were just sitting in a retention basin. There’s a lot of other benefits to stormwater as it relates to natural areas, the reduction of flooding for example. It has positive implications there as well. I think the city is well aware of what the value is of places like Ivanhoe South and the trick is how do we articulate that to the broader community. Not just in Gary but any community where someone might not have an ecology background or understand the value of a wetland and how a wetland functions to benefit them. Things that we all need, better water quality, air quality, whatever it is that relates to the environment.”

Calumet Lead Crisis Update – 25 Nov

This past Wednesday East Chicago mayor Anthony Copeland held his first public meeting since early August with affected Calumet residents. While the mayor defended his actions in addressing the crisis, organized residents stressed that it was not his lack of action but failure to communicate to his constituents that have angered so many.

The Post Tribune tallies the many lawsuits resulting from the Calumet lead crisis (three lawsuits filed in federal court, one in Lake County Superior Court, and six tort notices filed with the city.) The NWI Times looks at the $100 million suit filed by attorneys Walter Alvarez and Eric Pavlack.

The Post Tribune editorial board seems to think that Calumet residents will have a champion in Donald Trump. Because Michael Pence. Who never visited.

Kevin Stark from Pacific Standard returns to East Chicago and takes a look at the complicated Pastrick legacy in light of the recent civil rights settlement led by the Shriver Center.

Indiana Public Media took a look at the situation at the Nicosia Senior Building.

Miller Woods South (?)

Had the chance today to tramp around an 80 acre black oak savanna, currently owned by the City of Gary. The parcel is a mere block west of Lake St in downtown Miller and is south of the Miller Woods and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

It’s a healthy dune and swale with many native plants, a clear understory with lots of space in between the trees, invasive plants relegated to the edges, and very little litter. We counted 7 tires, 2 pop cans, and a shoe. A little stream curves around low dune ridges, a true rarity out this way!

Two interesting finds: First, a partially decomposed and badly mangled deer carcass. One of the unfortunate thing’s hooves was about 15 feet away. We also found the word “POACHER” spray painted on a tree. Word on the street is that a few old timers still hunt in these woods, that would perhaps explain the occasional early morning rifle shots I’ve heard. But no shells or other signs of human activity were noticed. The beaver have been busy tho.

 

Calumet Lead Crisis Update – 21 Nov

The health of seniors at ECHA properties in and near the Superfund site, and the poor response of the ECHA in getting the buildings and residents tested, has been addressed at many public meetings. Today the NWI Times reports that residents of the Nicosia building at 4720 Railroad Avenue, just outside the Superfund site, are showing elevated levels of lead in their blood, among other problems.

Northwest Indiana’s longtime congressman Pete Visclosky met with concerned Calumet residents on Sunday in a basement. An appropriate venue, considering that so many homeowners in the Superfund site are finding higher levels of lead and/or arsenic in their basements than they are in their poisoned yards. Residents expressed concerns with the chaotic moving process at West Calumet, the need for a disaster zone declaration, the need for lifelong health care, and the looming demolition of the West Calumet Complex. The Congressman made no assurances.

The 6th Annual People’s Turkey Drive

The 6th annual People’s Turkey Drive of East Chicago collected enough food to share with 400 families, including 40 families in Gary. One of the organizers, Juan “Weto” Fernandez, captured the spirit of the event, the holidays, and The Region in general before volunteers hit the streets:

“The first year was 30 something families, I forgot exactly how many. But 30 something families and this year we’re going to hit almost 400, even more. We got 15 families that are gonna meet us at the Boys and Girls Club in Hammond at 3pm. We’re gonna give some to certain charities. We’re gonna give some to St. Joe’s for the food kitchen. We’re gonna give to a couple of other places as well. And I just wanna say we’re gonna hit a lot of houses.

“There’s different backgrounds, there are different ethnicities that are helping. Different religious cultures. Different political views. Different entities coming involved for this. Like I said, we have off-duty cops that help. We have Black Lives Matters that help. We got people that are Muslim that donated. We got people that are Jewish that donated. We got people that are Catholic. We got people that are Donald Trump supporters. People that are Hillary Clinton supporters. People that were for Barack Obama. People that are Bernie Sanders supporters. We got Calumet Lives Matters. We got people that volunteer 100% for that involved.

“We got a lot of people involved in this and I just wanna say thank you again because it’s not about… none of that stuff I brought up doesn’t really matter in life if you’re struggling. If you’re struggling… that’s what happens to a lot of us. It’s people giving equal sacrifice. Some people donated one can, that’s worth as much as a million dollars that someone could have donated. So I just want to say again thank you again.

“This is the first year we’re doing this: We have a award we would like to give out, a special acknowledgement and one of the ones we’re going to hand out is to my friend Andy Garza right here… (applause) …”

Untitled

Calumet Lead Crisis Update – 19 Nov

Calumet residents and their allies took their frustrations with East Chicago mayor Anthony Copeland to city hall yesterday. Among the many criticisms were his lack of transparency, his poor leadership in a crisis, and his prioritizing of demolition of community health. Both the NWI Times and Post Tribune covered the press conference outside city hall and the protest that occurred inside, as Copeland refused to meet with the group. The NWI Times produced two videos:

 

One East Calumet resident learned that lead dust contamination in her basement exceeds that found in her yard. Of the 7 basements tested by the EPA, 4 have shown high levels of lead and/or arsenic. East Chicago Undivided is encouraging all Calumet residents to ask the EPA to test their basements.

The Young Turks, the first nationwide news outlet to pay attention to the lead crisis, have returned to East Chicago for an update: