Business and Economics

Environmental Clean-up Extends Airport Project

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July 3, 2013 — Environmental issues are slowing construction work at the Gary Chicago International Airport. Toxins have deemed the airport’s runway expansion project hazardous, and the airport plans to work with various agencies to complete the job.

The runway expansion project that was slated for completion by the end of this year is being postponed. Airport officials and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson announced Tuesday that the delay is due to clean-up of ground contamination that turned out to be larger than expected. Mayor Freeman-Wilson says the Environmental Protection Agency capped an area near the runway expansion, an area detailed in a 1997 report as a superfund site, originally occupied by Conservation Chemical.

Karen Freeman-Wilson said, “As a result of moving around that dirt and disturbing that site we have come to realize that the report we relied on that was provided when the site was capped has underestimated and underreported the level of contamination.”

Airport interim director Steve Landry says the report indicated that 80,000 cubic yards were affected. Instead, 120,000 cubic yards are tainted, or the equivalent of more than 46 olympic size swimming pools full of soil. Landry says the toxins include lead, PCBs, oil and arsenic. “Instead of being special waste, it’s classified as hazardous waste and it has to be dealt with differently. It has to be removed from the site.”

The Federal Aviation Administration released a statement agreeing with the Airport about the runway expansion date changing from the end of the year. The FAA says it’s confident the airport will follow federal regulations while dealing with remaining railroad and environment issues as well as work with the FAA and other federal and state agencies.

Freeman-Wilson says the Airport is talking with CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads. She also says the environmental issue will not hinder the Airport’s efforts to establish a public private partnership. “It is not unusual when you have a project of this magnitude to experience delays. Certainly during the course of this entire process, before anything started in earnest, there were delays. It is something that we believe we have are arms around and we will keep with a high priority.”

The Airport’s new runway is now expected to be complete in September 2014.


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