A1 A1
top story
Town of Pines joins MC in seeking oversight, wants trucks kept off nearby roads

TOWN OF PINES — A local environmental group pushing state regulators to ensure the safe removal of coal ash from NIPSCO ponds in Michigan City, and to hold off on removal until after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, has gained another municipal partner.

Earlier this month, the Michigan City Common Council passed a resolution calling for strict controls on removal of the 176,000 cubic yards of coal ash from the Michigan City Generating Station, and now the Town of Pines has passed a similar resolution.

Just Transition NWI also announced that its petition calling for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to closely monitor – and delay – the process has received more than 3,200 signatures.

The petition, and both municipal resolutions, call on IDEM to keep Northwest Indiana residents safe from NIPSCO’s coal ash during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to La’Tonya Troutman, spokeswoman for Just Transitions and the NAACP La Porte County Branch.

“The petition also affirms the importance of clean air, water, and soil to protect residents and workers,” she said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, about 3,300 signatures had been collected at change.org/nocoalashnwi

Just Transition NWI, a grassroots organization, along with the NAACP La Porte County Branch, Hoosier Environmental Council and Earthjustice, created the petition to advocate for Michigan City and communities along the trucking route to Jasper County, Troutman said.

The proposed route of the coal ash from Michigan City to a landfill at NIPSCO’s Schahfer plant in Wheatfield, is one of the key points of the resolution passed by the Town of Pines on Friday.

It calls for IDEM to reroute the removal process, currently proposed to travel along U.S. 12 to Ind. 520 to U.S. 20 to Ind. 49 in Porter County, then south to Wheatfield.

IDEM should reroute the transport “off of Highway 12/Dunes Highway, avoiding the Town of Pines due to the lack of a police force ... as well as having access to only a volunteer fire department, which does not have the means to assist or control a potential accident involving coal ash transport,” the resolution states.

It says the proposed U.S. 12 to Ind. 520 to U.S. 20 route is not acceptable because “this area and these three highways are high traffic thoroughfares which also include accident-prone intersections and there is no traffic light control in the area.”

The resolution suggests an alternative route of Hitchcock Road to U.S. 20, “where there are fewer residents residing than through the main thoroughfare in the Town of Pine, as well as stop light accessibility.”

The resolution discusses the town’s “history of contamination of coal ash from NIPSCO,” saying the town is “still suffering the repercussions” of that pollution.

“Thirty-eight homes within the Town of Pines still receive bottled water as they were not provided municipal water, as well as the remedial area extending outside the town is continuing to struggle to achieve clean water for their homes,” it states.

“Residents should not have to endure any additional exposure from the potential pollutants...”

Like the Just Transitions petition and the Michigan City resolution, the Pines is calling on IDEM to force NIPSCO to work with an independent Community Review Committee to assess the process, receive regular updates, and hire an independent technical expert to monitor the process.

It calls on IDEM to establish procedures to ensure “safe excavation, loading, transportation and disposal” of the coal ash with substantial penalties for non-compliance.

IDEM should continually monitor the roadways throughout the process and force NIPSCO to use “sift-proof” and “encapsulated” vehicles to minimize airborne dust, which should also be monitored for.

And – in order to “save lives” – it wants the removal process postponed until after the CDC “has determined that the dangers posed from COVID-19 are minimal for the State of Indiana.”

The latter issue is also being stressed by Just Transitions NWI.

“NIPSCO’s plan signifies an environmental justice issue,” Troutman said. “The EPA estimates that 1.5 million people of color live in areas vulnerable to contamination. Northwest Indiana is among these areas under the constant assault of environmental pollution.”

According to the petition, “Studies have shown that heightened levels of air pollution increase fatalities from COVID-19. Excavation, transportation and landfilling of coal ash can raise levels of particulate matter in the air.

“Particulate matter is a dangerous air pollutant linked to respiratory and cardiovascular health effects and to higher risk of mortality from COVID-19 that puts Michigan City, Jasper County and the communities along the transportation route at higher risk during the pandemic.”

NIPSCO has said the proposed plan for removal and transport of the coal ash is the best and least expensive method, and is part of a long ongoing process.

“Protecting human health and the environment is vital, and the practice of transporting ash from NIPSCO’s Michigan City Generating Station to the R.M. Schahfer Generating Station property has been in place for decades and are part of the company’s normal operations.

“The additional work that is being proposed is intended to remove remnant material from 5 ash ponds at Michigan City and replace it with clean fill, which is consistent with the requirements outlined in the EPA’s Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) rule.”

The process is “designed by the EPA to ensure the safe disposal of coal ash at coal-fired electric generating stations across the nation,” according to the company.

NIPSCO’s plan “includes transporting the ash material in enclosed trucks” and a “formal dust control plan is being finalized as part of the process and it will also be made available to the public,” the company said.

It also includes monitoring of soil, air and water, the company said.

– From staff reports

La Porte dairy farmer honored for role as former Indy 500 Milk Person

La PORTE — Two years after helping carry on a longstanding tradition in one of the world’s most famous races, a La Porte dairy farmer took an unexpected victory lap this week.

On Tuesday, the American Dairy Association Indiana presented Triple M Dairy owner Kim Minich with a signboard, recognizing her as an Indianapolis 500 “Milk Person.” Minich is one of more than a dozen Indiana dairy farmers the association is honoring with the all-weather signboards this month – National Dairy Month – thanking them for their service to the annual sporting event.

In 2018, the state dairy association gave the La Porte farmer the honor of bestowing the iconic bottle of ice-cold milk to the winner of that year’s 102nd running of the Indy 500. Minich awarded the beverage – stored safely inside a cooler the woman carried with her during the race – to driver Will Power.

Minich is one of the more than a dozen Indiana farmers the dairy association board has selected for the title of “Milk Person” since the organization took over the responsibility in 2006, said Allie Rieth, farmer relations manager with the association. These ambassadors carry on an Indy 500 tradition that dates back to 1936, when winning driver Louis Meyer asked for a bottle of buttermilk to quench his thirst after pulling into the victory circle.

To celebrate National Dairy Month this year, the dairy association decided to create another tradition, giving out signboards to former Milk People like Minich, Rieth said.

“It’s a great way of putting our farmers in the spotlight,” she said.

For Minich – who owns Triple M Dairy with her husband, Luke – the sign serves as yet another memento from an unforgettable experience two years ago, she said. The La Porte farmer, who also works as a nurse practitioner, has several photos from the race framed inside her home and has a ceremonial milk bottle signed by Power, she said.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said about the race. “I still get people asking me about it.”

Besides giving her the chance to walk inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s victory circle – a track she and her family had frequented when she was younger – serving as the 2018 Milk Person also allowed her to further showcase the importance of dairy, one of the backbones of America’s farm industry and an important pillar of a balanced diet, she said.

Minich has served on the Indiana dairy association board since 2016, which gives her the chance to work with other like-minded farmers to advocate for and promote the industry, she said.

This year, in particular, has been a trying period for Minich and others in the food industry due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused food shortages and supply issues across America.

“With COVID, so many things shut down – dairy wasn’t one of them,” she said. “Our cows and our workers, they didn’t think about it – they just kept on going.”

Minich and her husband – whose family has owned the La Porte farm for more than 110 years – have no plans on slowing down, either. The family currently has 14 employees and 1,200 cows, spanning both their property in La Porte and an additional site in Stillwell.

“We feel very blessed to do what we do – and we’re looking forward to many more years doing it,” she said.

Those interested in more information about Triple M Dairy, including possible tours, can contact the farm at (219) 362-9184 or facebook.com/TripleMDairy.

Indiana State Police receive over $2M in grants to help battle illegal narcotics

SOUTH BEND — The Indiana State Police will receive nearly $2.3 million in funding to support investigations into trafficking in heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil or the unlawful distribution of prescription opioids.

The money will come from the U.S. Department of Justice‘s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) as part of nearly $42 million in funding to support state-level law enforcement agencies in combating the illegal manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and prescription opioids, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“Today, two grant awards totaling over $2.2 million were awarded to the Indiana State Police,” said Thomas Kirsch II, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. “The grant money will be used to focus on combating methamphetamine and heroin distribution in Indiana.

“My office has put a special emphasis on investigating and prosecuting individuals who distribute addictive drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin, along with other opioids, on the streets of Northern Indiana, and this funding will help continue those efforts.”

“We are extremely thankful and honored to be a recipient of these two grants, which will assist our investigators who work on the front lines of the opioid crisis every day,” said Doug Carter, Superintendent of the Indiana State Police. “We are so very proud to collaborate with our law enforcement partners throughout the state in working to make our communities safer for everyone.”

Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States, according to the COPS Office. Deaths from drug overdoses are up among both men and women, all races, and adults of nearly all ages, with more than three out of five drug overdose deaths involving an opioid.

More than 130 people die every day after overdosing on opioids, while methamphetamine continues to be one of the most commonly misused stimulant drugs in the world and is the drug that most contributes to violent crime, a statement from COPS said.

The COPS Office is awarding more than $29.7 million in grant funding to 14 state law enforcement agency task forces through the Anti-Heroin Task Force Program (AHTF). AHTF provides three years of funding directly to state-level law enforcement with multijurisdictional reach and interdisciplinary team structures, in states with high per capita rates of primary treatment admissions for heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and other opioids, according to the statement.

This funding will support the location or investigation of illicit activities through statewide collaboration related to the distribution of heroin, fentanyl or carfentanil or the unlawful distribution of prescription opioids.

Indiana State Police will receive $1.285 million through the Program.

Through the COPS Anti-Methamphetamine Program (CAMP), the COPS Office is also awarding $12 million to 12 state law enforcement agencies. These agencies have demonstrated numerous seizures of precursor chemicals, finished methamphetamine, laboratories, and laboratory dump seizures, according to COPS.

State agencies are being awarded three years of funding through CAMP to support the location or investigation of illicit activities related to the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine, including precursor diversion, laboratories, or methamphetamine trafficking.

Indiana State Police will receive $1 million through the CAMP.

The AHTF and CAMP funding has a tremendous impact on state investigative and seizure work. During the five month period between October 2019 and February 2020, current AHTF grantees reported the seizure of over $4 million in cash and 1,213 firearms, Kirsch said.

Similarly, for CAMP, grantees reported seizures of more than $7 million in cash and 1,577 firearms.

– From staff reports

Indiana to use $25M in CARES Act funding to help struggling renters

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana will use $25 million in federal CARES Act funding to help Hoosiers struggling to pay rent due to the impact of COVID-19.

“This has been a very challenging time for Hoosiers, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 has left some renters in a tough spot,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday.

“The Indiana COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program will support our renters, improve our state’s housing stability, and help prevent evictions as the state gets back on track.”

The program will provide up to $500 in assistance for four months, totaling a maximum of $2,000 to eligible renters to help cover past and ongoing rent payments or late fees. Rental assistance through the program is available to residents in all Indiana counties except Marion, where a local $15 million CARES Act-funded program will provide aid to renters.

Holcomb also said Wednesday he will extend through July an executive order to protect renters from being evicted due to the COVID-19 state of emergency. He had signed an executive order April 1 to protect renters through June 30.

To be eligible for the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program, renters must meet the following criteria:

Lost their job or part of their income due to COVID-19

Current household income, including unemployment, is less than the household income on March 6

Have not received rental assistance from another source

Approximately 12,000 Indiana households could be helped through the program, which makes payments directly to the landlord, who must agree to participate.

Applications will be accepted online beginning at 9 a.m. July 13 at indianahousingnow.org.

In the meantime, if they have not done so already, renters are encouraged to speak with their property manager if they are unable to make their payments, the governor said.

Additional resources can be found in the state’s Coronavirus Eviction & Foreclosure Prevention Guide.