By Carolyn McCrady
Member, GARD (Gary Advocates for Responsible Development)
The city of Gary faces a crossroad. Will its future depend on trucking and the dumping of garbage, or will it move toward sustainable industries that focus on community and workforce development while centering the environmental impact of each project?
Gary sits in the middle of a toxic industrial stew that has been spewing its waste through stacks that flood the air, water and soil with chemicals that cause multiple respiratory diseases and many forms of cancer.
We are a “sacrifice zone” and therefore an Environmental Justice community, which means we have been harmed and will continue to be unless things change.
People used to believe that pollution was a good thing because it meant work. Dust on windowsills meant that a paycheck was coming home. Back then, people did not know the harmful effects of unregulated industry on the people of Gary, and in fact on all cities along the lakefront in Indiana and in Illinois.
Now that we know, how should we respond to the push from industry to continue to pollute our land, air and water?
A good example is the Maya Energy project to be located on 55 acres of land south of 35th Avenue that lies between Grant and Chase streets in Gary. Their plan is to convert garbage to something called “Refuse-Derived Fuel.”
Here’s the history of Maya Energy and why we should be outraged.
In 2017, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) issued Maya an air permit to construct and operate a municipal garbage and construction/demolition waste processing facility.
In 2019, despite intense public opposition, IDEM subsequently gave Maya a solid waste permit for the same location. During that same time, the city of Gary, which had originally approved the project, withdrew its support, indicating that the earlier approval had been a mistake. Yet today, the project continues under the current administration.
And since that time, Maya has built nothing on the property!
But now in 2022, Maya wants to extend its permit for five more years “to continue to operate its existing source.” But how is it possible to get a permit to continue operating a source that never existed?
Maya’s main argument for the facility is that it would help conserve existing landfill capacity in the area. Yet Maya proposes to bring the garbage from outside of Gary.
They will haul garbage Monday through Saturday, from dawn to dusk, down a narrow two-lane road that connects Grant and Chase streets in an area dominated by truck stops and traffic on the Borman Expressway. Gary’s bus maintenance terminal, several businesses and a charter school are all on 35th or close by.
None of this venture makes any sense. There are far too many unanswered questions! Are we going to embrace development at any cost? If Maya begins operations, do we have any idea of the environmental/health impacts? What would happen in case of an accident? Has the Gary Fire Department been consulted?
Where will the fuel Maya expects to produce be sold? Do they have a buyer? Where will they store the fuel until it is sold? Will unsold fuel be dumped into a landfill? Where would that be?
Prior to approval of the Maya air permit, will IDEM monitor mobile air pollution sources in the area of 35th Avenue to measure the level of diesel tailpipe emissions right now?
We have a lot of questions with very few answers. To voice your concerns about this project, join the public hearing on March 1, 2022, at on.in.gov.mayaenergy between 4:30 and 8:30 p.m. or to join the hearing via phone call (312) 626-6799. The meeting ID is 918 2040 6322: Passcode is 539403.