(This piece was originally published on March 3, 2018 in the Chicago Tribune.)

More than 100 people attended an emotionally charged community meeting Thursday about the Maya Energy LLC proposal to build a $59 million enclosed recycling facility for solid municipal waste, and construction and demolition waste in Gary.

The Steel City Academy, 2650 W. 35th Ave., and the Hoosier Environmental Council hosted the meeting at the school, which is across the street from the proposed development.

Presenters said Maya Energy will be a large waste processing facility that will handle up to 1,600 tons of municipal solid waste a day and up to 800 tons of construction and demolition waste per day.

“That waste coming in is not just our waste. It may not be any of our waste. Anybody who lives in Gary knows what is feels like to be a dumping ground for Chicago,” Sam Henderson, of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said. “Now this may be the final chance if people are concerned about this issue to make it stop.”

Parent Gretchen Smith promised to continue speaking up.

“We’re not trash. Gary is not for sale,” she said to cheers and applause. “I feel like we are disenfranchised and we have no voice. You won’t be quenching my voice.”

Gary City Councilwoman Linda Barnes Caldwell, D-5th, read a prepared statement from the city about the development.

“The city’s position is it is neither for or against Maya,” Barnes-Caldwell said, adding the project is not a city-related project and the city does not intend on using the facility’s services. The statement drew jeers from the crowd as members shouted the city’s response is not good enough.

What was supposed to be an hour-long session devolved into a chaotic scene when the principal of the project, James Ventura, and consultant Matt Reardon with MCR Partners. were given about five minutes at the end to speak and answer questions.

Reardon said residents heard a lot of information about Maya including it is a dump, truck traffic, smell, pollutants and safety issues that he, too, would be burned up about and would feel the same way if the claims were accurate.

“Maya is not a dump, a landfill or a transfer station,” Reardon said. The site will process municipal solid waste such as paper and plastic for disposal or resale. It will also process construction and demolition debris that has been cleaned of any potential toxic substance like lead or asbestos prior to being brought to the site, he said.

The $59 million project is expected to generate about 100 jobs paying between $15 and $30 an hour with full benefits, Reardon said.

Both men said the company was open about the plans and had gone through the proper and legal permitting process with required public hearings and public notice.

Ventura echoed Reardon’s comments after audience members demanded Ventura take questions instead of Reardon.

“How can I do a presentation to straighten out the misconception in a fast three minutes. It doesn’t make any sense,” Ventura said.

Ventura, a former East Chicago city councilman who lived for 30 years in Zone 3 of the USS Lead Superfund site in that city, said he understands concerns about pollution because he has lived with them and would not damage the community in that way.

“There is no way in hell I would come here and do that,” Ventura said. “I’m not a guy from Chicago, I’m not from a rich neighborhood.”

After the meeting, Reardon said the company would like to resolve the issue and come to some sort of agreement with the school.

“I think the ownership of Maya would like to work out a solution. Economic development isn’t easy,” he said.

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