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Officials target illegal dumping in Gary

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Gary Deputy Police Chief Brian Evans said the department received a call recently about a suspicious dump truck at Tolleston Park that resulted in the arrest of a Hebron woman for illegal dumping.

The call came at 5:55 a.m. May 7, Evans said, and officers found the woman illegally dumping large tree trunks and debris from a dump truck. The officers ensured the tree trunks were reloaded onto the truck, Evans said, before it was towed and fines and citations were issued.

“This case is one of many where illegal dumpers are not residents of the city,” Evans said. “Sometimes illegal dumping is performed by large companies that are paid to dispose of debris while doing work but instead of doing proper disposal they dump the debris in Gary.”

Gary Mayor Eddie Melton, Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Brian Rockensuess, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez and Evans announced Tuesday a major grant from the state to address two legacy illegal dumping sites and the creation of the Illegal Dumping Task Force to tackle the persistent issue of illegal dumping in the city.

“The administration cannot do this alone. It’s going to take community as a whole,” Melton said. “We wanted to … encourage the public, if you see something, say something.”

Gary mayor Eddie Melton speaks as, from left, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez, IDEM commissioner Brian Rockensuess, and Gary Police Department deputy chief Brian Evans, look on during a press conference to announce a program to curb illegal dumping in the city on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)
Gary mayor Eddie Melton speaks as, from left, Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez, IDEM commissioner Brian Rockensuess, and Gary Police Department deputy chief Brian Evans, look on during a press conference to announce a program to curb illegal dumping in the city on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)

The city received a $508,678.08 grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to clean up and secure legacy illegal dumping sites at 1100 North Clark Road and 890 Chase Street, Melton said.

Before he was sworn into office, Melton said IDEM informed city officials that it would be fined for the two illegal dumping sites. Melton said he worked with IDEM to come up with a solution, which resulted in the grant.

“We already have businesses that are interested in these locations,” Melton said. “If we don’t get them prepared, cleaned, protected, it’s going to be hard to make them more attractive for economic development opportunities.”

During a recent Gary Common Council meeting, a resident stated during public comment that a city contractor has been illegally dumping at the 890 Chase Street location. Melton said his administration has not been able to verify that fact, but city contractors are required to bring back receipts that show debris was properly removed.

Rockensuess said cleaning and securing the two sites, which will include cameras for added security, the land can then be redeveloped.

“We collectively send the message that this conduct is no longer tolerated in Gary,” Rockensuess said. “The issue going on was much bigger than just those two properties. What Gary needed was not a fine … they needed help to get moving toward a better future.”

Martinez said illegal dumping creates public health and environmental hazards, as well as being expensive to clean up. Anyone caught illegal dumping can face anywhere from fines to criminal charges, he said.

The sheriff’s department will install cameras near known sites and use its aviation unit to monitor areas to prevent illegal dumping. The sheriff’s department will also help address illegal dumping by allowing inmates in the work release program to help clean the city, Martinez said.

“Taking a proactive approach, holding those individuals accountable, is going to deter other individuals from such activities,” Martinez said.

Gary mayor Eddie Melton, on left, shakes hands with IDEM commissioner Brian Rockensuess after a press conference to announce a program to curb illegal dumping in the city on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)
Gary mayor Eddie Melton, on left, shakes hands with IDEM commissioner Brian Rockensuess after a press conference to announce a program to curb illegal dumping in the city on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)

The task force will investigate to identify the number of illegal dumping sites and each site’s condition, said Gary’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Suggs in an interview with the Post-Tribune.

“The sites are all over the community. Some sites are in worse condition than others. There are sites in a lot of our areas that are blighted and the areas that are not well occupied, as far as a lot of homes,” Suggs said.

From the city, the task force will include members from the mayor’s office, code enforcement department, police department, health department, public works department, legal and communications, said the city’s Chief Communications Officer Erika Blackwell.

The task force will also include members from IDEM, the sheriff’s office and the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office, Blackwell said.

City officials will conduct a root cause analysis to find out all the causes of illegal dumping in the city, Suggs said.

During the analysis, Suggs said public works employees will visit sites and go through the items there to gauge what is there, particularly if any items point to a potential company that may have dumped material at that location.

City officials will also work with the sanitary district to see if illegal dumping is impacting the system, Suggs said. The police department will work to stop illegal dumping while officers are on patrol, Evans said.

The legal department will work to see what penalties and other legal actions can be taken against people and companies found to be illegally dumping objects in the city, Suggs said.

Gary Police Department deputy chief Brian Evans speaks as Mayor Eddie Melton looks on during a press conference to announce a program to curb illegal dumping in the city on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)
Gary Police Department deputy chief Brian Evans speaks as Mayor Eddie Melton looks on during a press conference to announce a program to curb illegal dumping in the city on Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (Kyle Telechan/for the Post-Tribune)

Another important part of the task force will be communicating with the public and businesses about how to properly dispose of debris or other materials, Suggs said. Right now, residents can dispose of their garbage and debris at a location near Clay Street and East 15th Avenue, he said.

“We’re just trying to do a thorough method in trying to analyze and find the roots of this issue that is becoming a plague to our community,” Suggs said. “We feel that this is going to be our best effort.”

In his 30 years with the police department, Evans said illegal dumping has been a major issue that has blighted Gary.

In the last few years, Evans said the problem has become much worse as it appears companies and contractors have been dumping materials — sometimes hazardous — which increases cost and personnel use for the city.

“Our officers are out 24/7 and they see the results of dumping all the time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take very long to do this activity,” Evans said.

If the task force finds debris from a specific company, Evans said the police will conduct an investigation into the company and the items it illegally dumped in the city. Depending on what debris is found, there are various degrees of fines and penalties that can be issued to the company, he said.

Evans said the police department is prepared to make adjustments to enforcement because there is a possibility that as people are deterred from illegal dumping “the activity may decrease but it may also move.”

“We will be a fluid, mobile type of task force that will be able to change our tactics, change our ideas on the fly,” Evans said.

The task force will respond to whatever the analysis of the illegal dumping sites finds, Suggs said.

“I look at this process as a living process. It’s constantly changing and growing as far as our new awareness and understanding of the issues,” Suggs said. “We just know that we have to do something.”

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