By VICKI URBANIK
The principle partners in the Chesterton company proposing to build Porter
County’s first landfill in decades say they’re fully prepared to go to court
if they’re denied at the county level tonight.
And if their proposed site near Boone Grove fails, they say they’ll look for
another landfill site in Porter County -- because if they don’t, some other
landfill company will.
The three partners -- Chief Executive Officer Richard Counts, Chief
Operating Officer Lance Hodge, and Environmental Advisor Don Mohar, all
Duneland residents -- defend their proposed landfill on what is now farmland
at 550S 250W as an answer to a pressing need to find a place for the
They are planning a landfill permitted for 20 years, with the intention of
accepting only waste from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. However, they
are not ruling out out-of-state waste if the local contracts do not generate
Despite calls from opponents and some public officials, the three said they
are the only principles in Porter Development LLC who will be publicly
identified. Counts said as a private business, Porter Development is under
no obligation to divulge its investors; he did say that all seven investors
are Porter County residents.
Under the county’s zoning ordinances, a landfill can be located in
agriculturally zoned land with a special exception obtained by the Board of
Zoning Appeals. The BZA will hold a hearing on that special exception at 6
p.m. today in the Expo Center.
A possible setback for Porter Development came this week, when State Rep.
Ralph Ayres, R-Chesterton, successfully amended a bill by banning landfills
within one mile from schools that use well water. That could impact Porter
Development, since its landfill is less than a mile from the Boone Grove
But even if the Boone Grove site fails, the Porter Development partners say
they will look elsewhere for a new landfill, with the most likely location
in south Porter County. Though the three contend that living near a landfill
does not have to be problemmatic -- they point to expensive homes being
built near the Munster landfill as an example -- they also said south county
is the best place for a landfill since it’s away from a population density.
The day after Porter Development filed its application with the county,
Hodge, a 1989 Chesterton High School graduate, resigned as executive
director of the Porter County Solid Waste District, a post he held since
Hodge said there was no conflict with his abrupt move from the waste
district, a public agency, to the private firm headed by his brother-in-law,
Counts. Hodge said once Counts filed the paperwork for the special
exception, he knew he had to resign from the waste district and that he
doesn’t believe the waste board would have allowed him to stay on anyway.
Unlike Hodge and Mohar, Counts is not a long-time Northwest Indiana resident
but a Texan native who move to this area about four years ago. He said he
has been in private business for 12 years and previously worked as a
financial trader. He described himself as an entrepreneur who about a year
ago recognized a new opportunity: a landfill in Northwest Indiana.
Mohar, of Jackson Township, is the company’s environmental advisor who is
providing guidance in such areas as landscape plantings in the required
setback zone. He may be best known by many locally for his work as chair of
the board for the Friends of the Indiana Dunes.
Hodge said he does not know if the Boone Grove land was one of the prime
landfill sites in a publicly funded study commissioned by the now-defunct
agency serving Porter and LaPorte counties. Except for a split second, Hodge
said he never saw the maps showing the best landfill sites; he said the only
ones who to this day know the landfill sites in that study are his
predecessor, the waste district director in LaPorte County, and the
Chicago-based attorney who represented the BI-county agency.
Porter Development was one of the companies that asked the waste district to
release the landfill study data -- and it did use what the waste board
eventually agreed to divulge.
Counts said the information helped very little. But Hodge said the waste
board released valuable data that all landfill companies need, such as
wetland sites, historical sites, and school locations.
No Recycling Center
Unlike the ill-fated effort at a
publicly owned landfill a few years ago, Porter Development is not planning
to incorporate a recycling or waste reduction program at its facility.
Instead, Counts said, Porter Development is considering offering
municipalities that contract with the landfill a rebate that could be used
for recycling or park acquisition.
Porter Development has also announced offering Porter County government a
host fee that could generate $3 to $5 million annually, a payment that
Counts has described as potentially solving the county’s fiscal woes and
eliminating the need for an income tax.
Porter Development has already talked informally with county officials, but
it does not intend to get any official approval or endorsements from the
solid waste district, the county commissioners or other boards. It doesn’t
have to, they said.
Hodge and Counts dismiss criticism that the landfill came out of nowhere.
Porter Development is a business, they said, and just like any other private
company, it didn’t need to publicly announce its plans until it sought the
But Hodge said he repeatedly made it clear at solid waste district meetings
that he has been contacted by five or so landfill companies in the past few
years interested in opening up shop here. Although the county’s master plan
adopted last year does not envision a new landfill, Hodge said the waste
district’s long-term plan does.
The solid waste plan that was originally prepared in 1992 actually calls for
a publicly owned landfill. The plan, however, was revised the following
year. The reference to a district-owned landfill was replaced, with new
language calling on the district to study the purchase of up to 150 acres
that is "geologically sound, environmentally appropriate and compatible with
existing land uses" for possible use as a landfill "for the district."
The two closest landfills are soon closing, which will leave no municipal
waste landfill in Northwest Indiana. The Deercroft landfill will close this
July, and the Munster landfill will close within a few years. The Newton
County landfill could close in five years if it continues its current
Hodge said he has seen one landfill proposal shot down only to be followed
by another someplace else. Failed landfills have included two proposed by
public agencies: One, possibly in the Westville area, proposed by the Porter
and LaPorte agency and one proposed by the Lake County Solid Waste District
near Hebron. More recently, a Gary firm was unsuccessful in opening a new
landfill in the industrial park in LaPorte County.
“It just moves around the map.” He added that Lake, Porter and LaPorte
counties generate 5,000 to 6,000 tons of trash per day, while the proposed
landfill would be permitted for 2,500 to 3,000 tons a day.
“We are heading for a train wreck,” he said, referring to the region’s