United Water penalty money earmarked for entire state, not Gary
By Teresa Auch Schultz email@example.com June 15, 2014 9:02PM
Don Smales, plant superintendent, looks out where the final effluent discharges from Gary Sanitary District into the Grand Calumet River in Gary.
Updated: July 17, 2014 11:10AM
When United Water agreed last week to pay $645,000 in civil penalties to end a lawsuit over its management of the Gary Sanitary District, the company promised to pay half of that money to the state.
But it’s unclear what, if any, portion of that fine would be directed to Gary, the area that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency argues saw its local rivers polluted because of United Water.
The civil penalty makes up the bulk of a consent decree that the New Jersey company signed with the federal government last week. The consent decree ended a lawsuit that claimed the company discharged water with pollutants such as E. coli that were higher than permitted levels into the Little Calumet River and the Grand Calumet River from 2006 to 2010.
United Water continues to say it did nothing wrong but that it agreed to pay the penalty to avoid a long and costly legal battle.
Barry Sneed, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said that the money, like all penalties paid to IDEM, will go to the Environmental Management Special Fund. However, he did not have details on how that money is budgeted.
Kin Ferraro, the water and agriculture policy director and staff attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said that the government could have stipulated in the consent decree that United Water’s fine be used toward a specific purpose but that it does not appear they did in this case.
Although she said she does not know what the state will do with the money, she does think it should be directed toward Gary.
“Given that there was all this money and resources put into getting a civil penalty for this specific harm, certainly it makes sense that the money be used to remedy that,” she said.
The state doesn’t have a law regarding these penalties, she said, but it also doesn’t really need one in that it’s fairly easy to direct how certain dollars are spent through the state budget or other means.
The alleged harm also happened at the earliest four years ago, so whether the Grand Calumet River and the Little Calumet River still suffer from those issues is unknown. However, Ferraro said that she thinks Gary’s history of environmental problems makes it a special case that deserves any financial help it can get.
“The peope who live there suffer huge environmental burdens….” she said. “I just think, goodness gracious, there’s so much going on there that if there’s any way we can improve things in that area, then we should.”