City officials from East Chicago, Indiana, requested state aid from the General Assembly on Thursday to combat their lead contamination crisis.
Mayor Anthony Copeland says multiple state and federal agencies have denied additional requests for more money to cleanup the city’s Calumet neighborhood.
“This has been the only ray of hope that we see that we could come in contact with other additional funding to help alleviate a crisis,” Copeland says.
The Calumet neighborhood became a federal Superfund clean up site in 2009, it’s contaminated with lead and arsenic 200 times the legal limit. City attorney Carla Morgan says the city has already spent nearly $47 million in response to the crisis. Under the direction of former Gov. Mike Pence, the state has provided staffing resources and $200,000 for housing and public health assistance.
The delegation testified in favor of two bills currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Committee Chair Luke Kenley says the situation in East Chicago is a “true disaster.” He says lawmakers are more likely to consider the bills for the 2017 budget than advance them as individual bills.
“Part of this depends on our ability to work things into the budget and has to compete with other priorities,” Kenley says.
The first bill heard by the committee, from Sen. Lonnie Randolph (D-East Chicago), seeks aid for the East Chicago school district, which had to abandon Carrie Gosch Elementary School because of lead contamination concerns. School City of East Chicago Superintendent Paige McNulty says the bill, in part, requests $5 million dollars in aid.
“We had dug out from a $7 million deficit years ago and we were on the road to recovery,” McNulty says. “But we can’t survive this.”
Sen. Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond) authored the other bill heard by the committee. He’s seeking $5 million over two years from the state in case the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t adequately clean up the neighborhood. That money would be overseen by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
“I have no confidence in the Superfund and they’ve been working on this problem for seven years,” Mrvan says. “They need help. They may need financial help. This is a standby, this is a safety net, this is insurance. And it’s a good, conservative way to help people.”