County work release crew helps clean up Merrillville
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent May 8, 2013 12:18PM
The Lake County Sheriff's Work Release Community Work Force, including Luke Atkinson of Chicago, (from left) Hayward Robinson of Hammond, Rich Heilman of Lowell, Michael Scott of Hammond and Derrion Estes of Gary work along Harrison Street as they pick up trash in Merrillville, Ind. Wednesday May 8, 2013. | Stephanie Dowell~Post-Tribune
Updated: June 10, 2013 2:03PM
MERRILLVILLE — Plastic pop bottles and grocery bags. Cigarette packages. Snack packaging. Even an old muffler, compact disc and a plastic dryer vent.
These were some of the items that a crew of seven men from Lake County Sheriff’s Department Community Work Force picked up within minutes Wednesday morning at one corner of 61st and Harrison.
Sheriff John Buncich said Wednesday kicked off this year’s cleanup program, which will last through fall and encompass several communities.
“We have it all mapped out. Merrillville is the first community we’re working with. From here we’re going to Gary, East Chicago and Hammond. There’s a long, long list,” Buncich said.
He added, though, there is still room for add-ons if other communities want to take advantage of the free labor provided by the workers, all of whom were found guilty of misdemeanors and have short sentences.
The workers are supervised and wear safety equipment, including bright colored vests, boots and gloves.
Buncich said another team will be added soon.
While cleanup is primarily done on the sides of busy roads, especially near big box stores and grocery stores, Buncich said this year the sheriff’s department is also replacing basketball rims that have been torn down at his own personal expense.
“We want kids to stay on the playgrounds, not in the streets,” he said.
Rich Heilman, of Lowell, one of the workers, said he was finding mostly light items like plastic grocery bags and soft drink bottles that can easily blow away.
“It looks like people aren’t recycling like they should be,” Heilman said.
Merrillville Town Council President Carol Miano, D-3rd, said the work crew will cover several other areas of town as well as 61st Avenue, including 73rd from Madison to Taft, Merrillville Road by Meijer and 57th and Grant by the creek.
She said the area east of Meijer is especially filled with litter.
When finished with the streets, workers also will clean up the site of the future Union Park at 7200 and Broadway and remove a fence and shed there. “The streets are the most important. When investors and developers come to town they look around. If they see an unkempt appearance, they wonder why should they come here,” Miano said.
She said the town is supplying the workers with garbage bags and its Public Works department would pick up the bags.