Contamination creates turbulence for Gary airport expansion
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent July 2, 2013 6:32PM
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Updated: July 8, 2013 3:01PM
GARY — Environmental remediation on the berm crucial to the Gary/Chicago International Airport runway expansion isn’t expected to increase its $166 million price tag but will delay its completion by about nine months.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, along with Interim Airport Director Steve Landry and Harley Snyder, the governor’s appointee to the Regional Development Authority, announced Tuesday that the expansion’s final phase won’t be completed until September 2014. Contamination found in and around the berm must be cleaned up in order to relocate the airport’s navigational equipment, Freeman-Wilson said.
The berm runs along the south side of a Superfund site settled by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1997. Eleven companies shared in the cost of capping 80,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with lead, PCBs, oil and arsenic at the Conservation Chemical Co. of Illinois site.
However, during recent construction, runway contractors discovered more contamination than previously disclosed, Landry said.
In order for contractors to get to the berm to assess contamination levels and complete the work, the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads must reach their easement agreements to move their lines to the new track that travels around the new runway. Neither of them have yet, so Freeman-Wilson said she will meet with railroad representatives next week to compel them to complete the agreements as soon as possible.
“They’ve been called to the principal’s office, so I think they’re motivated,” she said. “I will not rest until these agreements are achieved.”
Funding for the runway expansion, which comes primarily through the Federal Aviation Administration and the RDA, isn’t expected to be affected even though the deadline for completion was set for December. FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said his agency fully agrees that the deadline has to be moved back because of the remediation.
“We’re confident that the airport will follow all federal regulations and processes in properly dealing with remaining railroad and environmental issues,” Molinaro said. “The airport sponsor continues to diligently address the issues and is working closely with the FAA and numerous federal and state agencies.”
Molinaro said barring any unforeseen national circumstances, the $57.8 million in funding the airport is slated to receive through 2015 shouldn’t be affected. As well, an anticipated letter of intent for $24 million in additional funding won’t be affected, although that money can’t be used toward the remediation.
As to the added cost for remediation, Freeman-Wilson said bids are being sought for the project and its impact isn’t immediately clear, though she wasn’t necessarily concerned it would sharply increase the $166 million pricetag. If it does, however, she said the airport and city will reach out to various agencies, and the EPA in particular, to see whether the site is eligible for more funding.
Evan Williamson, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, said the congressman is committed to the expansion and will work to secure the funds if necessary.
“We will be here to make sure the expansion gets done and will make finding funding a priority,” Williamson said.
Additionally, the airport’s exploration of a public-private partnership for the airport won’t be hindered by the delay, Freeman-Wilson said. The airport has received nine proposals for the partnership.