East Chicago to renew emergency request over lead troubles

AP News
|
Posted: Jan 19, 2017 1:51 PM

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (AP) — East Chicago officials plan to renew their request for a state emergency declaration over the city's lead contamination after former Gov. Mike Pence turned them down before he left office.

East Chicago's mayor sought the designation in December, hoping it would make more state programs available to residents dealing with the contamination that's forcing more than 1,000 people to move from a public housing complex, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported (http://bit.ly/2iOa90g ).

But a letter from Pence's office, dated Dec. 14 and released by the city Wednesday following a public records request, said state agencies have been assisting with housing, health testing and mental health services for several months.

"Given the level of coordination among federal, state and local agencies, the state resources provided to date, and the resources available under the federal Superfund program, the issues described within your letter are being addressed without the need for a disaster emergency declaration," said the letter signed by Mark Ahearn, who was the governor's office general counsel under Pence.

City Attorney Carla Morgan said Mayor Anthony Copeland was drafting a new request to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who took office Jan. 9. He was Pence's lieutenant governor, and beat Democrat John Gregg in the November election.

A Holcomb spokeswoman didn't have immediate comment Thursday on whether the decision would be reconsidered. Pence will be sworn in as Donald Trump's vice president on Friday.

Over the summer, Copeland ordered the evacuation of the 40-year-old public housing complex, where about 700 children lived, because of severe contamination to soil once occupied by a lead-products factory. Some yards had lead levels more than 70 times the federal safety standard. Residents have until the end of March to find new homes.

Copeland's request to Pence said the East Chicago Housing Authority had depleted $1.1 million of its $1.6 million capital fund to assist residents with moving expenses and that the city's school district is facing cash shortfalls because declining enrollment and the closing of an elementary school near the housing complex.

Copeland wrote that the local government response has "strained our local resources to the point of breaking."

Sheilah Garland, a member of a community strategy group, said the city should do more to draw attention to the plight of those living in the West Calumet Housing Complex and at the more than 1,000 private properties that are being cleaned by the EPA.

"It's important that (Copeland) make this a public fight," Garland said.

___

Information from: The Times, http://www.nwitimes.com