Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Landfill developers determined to find a site somewhere in Porter County

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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 region’s waste.

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 sufficient capacity.

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 schools.

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 1996.

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 proper approvals.

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 capacity.

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 disposal needs.

 

Posted 2/27/2002