(This piece was originally published on June 18, 2018 by the NWI Times.)

Multiple residents urged the Little Calumet River Basin Commission to not let Maya Energy use land by the river for a $50 million, 165,000-square-foot waste processing and recycling facility that’s planned in Gary.

Environmentalists, concerned residents and the principal of the Steel City Academy charter school that would be right next door asked the commission at its meeting in Munster on Wednesday to not renew a licensing agreement with Maya Energy that dates back to 2016, after it failed to build the facility in Chicago Heights. They expressed concerns about the potential impact on water quality in the Little Calumet River, with speakers describing the project as “regressive,” “environmentally destructive” and “counterproductive to everything you do.”

Brandon Dothager, who lives about three miles upriver from the project in Highland, said he didn’t understand why a commission established to protect the floodplain and that has spent tens of millions dollars to fix recurring flooding would let a company come by the river to import trash from Chicago.

“It’s not servicing a local need,” he said. “You can cancel the lease. Ultimately you have power over the land.”

Dan Repay, executive director of the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission, said Maya Energy could only build under the licensing agreement if it gets a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the agency has been hands-off about what gets built in the floodplain so long as the proper permits are secured. If it gets the go-ahead from IDEM, Maya Energy says it would employ more than 100 people at the facility, which would process up to 2,400 tons of waste a day, separating recyclable material from non-recyclable material that would be shipped off to landfill or sold so it could be burned as fuel.

Katie Kirley, the principal of the Steel City Academy “96 feet away,” said it would impact her students and the Girls on the Run runners who use an adjoining trail every day.

“This will have massive implications for our school,” she said. “Students, parents and community leaders do not want you to extend this lease to Maya.”

Commission member Tom Wichlinski said the board may consider a renewal of the license agreement at its next meeting on July 11th, but said it was up to the chairman to set the agenda.

Sam Henderson, an attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said a leasing agreement allowing a solid waste operation by a waterway that’s been significantly cleaned up over the last few decades had “significant potential for liability” that could open the commission up to “quite a lot of litigation.”

“The commission should consider stepping away from this agreement,” he said.

The commission took no action Wednesday on the Maya Energy agreement.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to spend up to $300,000 over two years on the Little Calumet Marsh Bird Conversation Area, which aims to improve habitats for wrens and other marsh birds.

Local environmentalist Carolyn Marsh said the plan for bird conservation was excellent.

“I’m confused that you would allow Maya Energy near the Little Calumet River while you’re also helping fund a multimillion-dollar project for restoration of bird habitat,” she said. “It doesn’t really fit with that concept.”

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