Letter from the Mayor
Over the past several months, our community has weathered environmental issues that have seriously impacted our residents, their children and all of us who call East Chicago home. In every instance, we have worked in partnerships to address serious environmental issues. When we realized the extent of lead contamination in the soil in the West Calumet Housing Complex we demanded that residents be moved out of harms way to prevent their exposure to high levels of lead during the EPA remediation. When the School City realized the extent of the contamination near Carrie Gosch School , it was ordered closed. When the remediation began to impact other residents and homeowners, we began working with residents and community groups to rebuild trust not only in City government, but also in state and federal government in order to best address residents needs and concerns. This has not been easy, but I acknowledge that this is what is required of those of us who serve in public office.
We continue to follow our community’s motto. East Chicago is indeed a “City of Hope and Progress”. Why? Because we will never stop working for the people of our community despite issues that have the potential to wreak havoc on our community. I wanted to provide you with a brief update on what we are doing and have done to address the environmental issues that confront our community.
First, we did not shift blame. Although the areas impacted by lead and arsenic contamination in the soil were the sites of industrial plants which closed over forty years ago; and that the decision to build housing on these sites was made forty years before I took office, we remained steadfast in our commitment to protect and support our residents. When we learned that the Environmental Protection Agency was doing considerable testing of homes and water systems in the area, we offered to collaborate with the agency to address the issue in order to arrive at a remediation plan which best served our residents and our City. We devoted staff and resources to this problem, and arrived at the difficult conclusion that relocation, followed by demolition was the best way to protect people from the unprecedented levels of contamination in the West Calumet Housing Complex.
Second, we dedicated staff and programs to assist those residents in the impacted area. We provided free blood lead testing for residents via the East Chicago Health Department; we worked in concert with the Indiana State Department of Health; we transported senior citizens from their homes to testing sites; we pushed the federal government to expedite vouchers to residents of the area so that they could quickly relocate to safer affordable housing; we increased police patrols to protect the residents. Our goal was simple - to make sure that we used all available resources of the City of East Chicago to support our residents in their hours of need and during this crisis.
Third, we called it what it is - a disaster We sought state support for declaring the area a disaster, but unfortunately that request was rejected by Governor Pence. We have asked for the same declaration from newly-elected Governor Holcomb. We also have supported efforts of our General Assembly to secure additional funds to make sure that the City of East Chicago’s taxpayers do not have to bear the burden of this disaster alone.
Fourth, I will say it here because I say it countless times a day - the quality of water provided by the East Chicago Water Filtration Plant is excellent and safe. Unfortunately, because federal regulations allowed the use of lead in residential plumbing until 1986, homes built before lead was banned may have water supply lines made of lead. We have requested funding via the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to make $18 million of improvements in our water system. These are designed to continue to improve the quality of the water that reaches our residents.
In this particular case, we are working with our financial advisors to determine the best approach to use these additional ratepayer dollars to begin replacing lead lines to each home that is impacted by high levels of lead in the water. We anticipate receiving state approval within the next few months so that we can do what has never been done before - replace the lead service lines to help assure our residents that their water supply to their homes is of the highest quality.
Fifth, we intend to hold the federal government accountable as a partner in our efforts. The EPA started this process of testing, even using brand new technologies that had not been used elsewhere until East Chicago. That is fine and we understand their obligation to protect residents from exposures to environmental hazards. That is their job. My job as Mayor is to ensure that we cooperate, collaborate and build consensus on the best approaches forward. That’s why we will be meeting with the regional office of the EPA to build a partnership with their new leadership.
Sixth, we have been transparent and accessible throughout the process. We have responded to numerous requests for information from newspapers, radio and television stations. We have been available to the media. We have talked about our issues on radio and have used our community’s government cable station to make sure that residents are aware of the issues and our efforts to address them. We have held community meetings on a regular basis. We have assigned staff to meet with groups and individuals to better understand their concerns and to work on solving their issues. And we will continue. Making sure that we respond and actually do something has always been how I approach my job as Mayor.
Finally, I will admit that this has been a tough journey. We have dedicated our scarce resources to addressing a modern disaster right here in East Chicago. Yes, it will be an arduous journey that will test our strength as a community. The media always refer to my community as “gritty”. I disagree and find that offensive. They should stop. The people that I am fortunate to represent are hard-working, determined and simply want what many of us want - the ability to raise our children in a safe environment. I assure you that remains my priority each day.
City of East Chicago