An Indiana steelmaker has agreed to pay $3 million, upgrade plant equipment, and donate 127 acres of land to the Indiana Dunes National Park after it caused a chemical spill leading into Burns Waterway that killed 3,000 fish in 2019.
The proposed consent decree would have to be approved by a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Hammond. At the time, the Burns Harbor steel mill was owned by ArcelorMittal, which sold the majority of its American assets to Cleveland Cliffs in 2020.
“This is a big victory for protecting Lake Michigan, safe clean water, and Northwest Indiana communities,” Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner said in a release. “The consent decree holds Cleveland-Cliffs accountable for its excessive pollution and Clean Water Act permit violations, and it underscores the value of citizen enforcement lawsuits.”
A representative for Cleveland Cliffs was not immediately available for comment.
Learner’s group and Indianapolis-based Hoosier Environmental Council were plaintiffs in the citizen lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act that led to the tentative settlement with Cleveland Cliffs, the EPA and Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
“We’re heartened by this consent decree and we’re very hopeful that it will safeguard the extraordinary ecological treasure that is Lake Michigan from another toxic industrial spill, and elevate environmental protection across Northwest Indiana, which has several communities that have borne a special burden of environmental injustice for far too long,” Hoosier Environmental Council Executive Director Jesse Kharbanda said.
Days after a slew of dead fish emerged, ArcelorMittal admitted a failure in a blast furnace wastewater recycling system on Aug. 11, 2019, led to the discharge of cyanide and ammonia into Burns Waterway. The delay angered local communities and public officials in Indiana and Chicago.
Local beaches closed for days as a precaution and Indiana American Water temporarily idled its Ogden Dunes water treatment plant.
The agreement calls for the $3 million to be split between the federal and state government. The steelmaker is required to upgrade equipment to prevent future cyanide and ammonia spills and up its water monitoring in summer 2022 and 2023. It would also set up “improved” public notification plans to avoid the delay seen in 2019.
The steelmaker also would donate 127 acres north of North Boo Road and west of Indiana 149 in Burns Harbor — a mix of woodlands and former farm land — to the Shirley Heinze Land Trust for restoration purposes. An environmental assessment would be conducted first, according to the agreement.
The land would ultimately be given to the Indiana Dunes National Park.