The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed East Chicago's now-vacant West Calumet Housing Complex as a contaminated site that's ripe for redevelopment.
The EPA on Wednesday released a list of Superfund sites across the country ideal for a "redevelopment focus list," according to a press release. While the EPA says the redevelopment of the West Calumet Housing Complex and old Carrie Gosch School is pending remediation in the area, residents want some guarantees before the site is given a new use.
"EPA is more than a collaborative partner to remediate the nation's most contaminated sites, we're also working to successfully integrate Superfund sites back into communities across the county," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, in a statement Wednesday. "Today's redevelopment list incorporates Superfund sites ready to become catalysts for economic growth and revitalization."
Debbie Chizewer, of Northwestern University Pritzker Law's Environmental Advocacy Center which is working with the East Chicago Calumet Coalition, said it's important for the EPA to clean a site in a way that protects human health.
Chizewer said she sees that Pruitt's EPA wants to get sites into use, but that remediation should be done right.
"I think it's most important to get the perspective of the people living there," Chizewer said.
The EPA's Superfund Task Force's report said whatever future use of the sites is planned in conjunction with the community, Chizewer said.
"It's important to have the community at the table," Chizewer said.
In December, Pruitt put the U.S.S. Lead Superfund site, which encompasses East Chicago's Calumet neighborhood, on a list of 21 sites across the county in need of immediate and intense attention, according to a press release.
"This 70-acre site includes the former West Calumet Housing Complex, a city park and the Carrie Gosch School," the EPA said in its site description. "The school is available for reuse and the city has said the housing complex parcel will be zoned for residential use."
"The EPA is re-evaluating cleanup options for Zone 1 in coordination with the city and the school district," the EPA added.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland in July 2016 told West Calumet residents they should move because of the high levels of lead and arsenic contamination at the site. The East Chicago School Corp. shuttered the Carrie Gosch School, moving students to the former West Side Junior High at 4001 Indianapolis Blvd.
Copeland has asked the EPA repeatedly to clean the site to residential standards as the reuse of the site is now being explored.
The remediation alternatives and ultimate plan to remove the contaminated material will follow what the future use of the site will be, according to the EPA. Once the new plans are developed, the EPA will release those alternatives and collect public feedback.
The EPA's initial record of decision, released in 2012, planned to remediate the contaminated soil at the housing complex without displacing residents or tearing down any buildings. The intention to simply dig out the soil was the plan funded through the 2014 consent decree.
When Copeland notified residents in July 2016 that they would have to move and he intended to have the complex demolished, the EPA had to revisit that plan.
The West Calumet Housing Complex is now vacant, the last resident moving out in June 2017, and waiting demolition.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the East Chicago Housing Authority permission to demolish the complex in September.
The approval HUD gave the East Chicago Housing Authority only allows the demolition of the buildings and removal of roadways, sidewalks and foundations, according to HUD. HUD blocked plans to remove underground utilities, according to the final decision issued by the federal housing agency.