(This piece was originally published on February 27, 2018 in the Northwest Indiana Times.)

Steel City Academy administrators, students and several community groups plan to meet Thursday to lay out their concerns about a waste-processing facility proposed at a nearby site.

School officials, the Hoosier Environmental Council and the Community Strategy Group said they’re concerned the proposal for the land at 2727 W. 35th Ave. inadequately addresses concerns about noise, traffic, fugitive releases, and air and water discharges.

Maya Energy LLC has proposed a $50 million, 165,000-square-foot municipal recycling facility on land it would lease for 50 years from the Little Calumet River Basin Commission. A consultant for Maya Energy previously told The Times the project could create 100 jobs.

Opponents said the state deeded the land to the Little Calumet River Basin Commission to control flooding.

Steel City Academy serves about 290 students and chose its 18-acre property — which is across the street from the proposed facility — because administrators thought the natural surroundings would foster learning.

“Such an intensive industrial use is completely incompatible with our vision of the school and poses a serious threat to the health and welfare of students,” a news release said.

The community meeting is set for 6 p.m. Thursday at Steel City Academy, 2650 W. 35th Ave. in Gary.

Residents also have until March 12 to submit comments on the proposal to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which recently extended the public comment period following a request by the Hoosier Environmental Council.

The council is strongly encouraging residents of Gary and Calumet Township to comment on the project, said Sam Henderson, staff attorney in the council’s Gary office.

“The cornerstone of the Maya Energy project is converting municipal solid waste to bricks that can be burned as fuel,” Henderson said. “That process is fraught with environmental risk. … The Lake County Solid Waste Management Plan, which is supposed to govern solid waste decisions in the county, envisions waste-to-energy facilities like this only in the context of possible future use as a coal substitute by NIPSCO — but NIPSCO hasn’t announced any plan to start burning garbage in its power plants.”

The council and more than 360 local residents have asked IDEM to hold a public hearing on the proposal, he said.

Gary approved zoning for the project in May. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson previously told The Times the proposal would provide “an opportunity to engage in a recycling process, which is important to us as we develop our clean-energy strategy.”


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