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Closing Coal: What Happens At Fisk, Crawford And State Line?

By JoshMogerman in News on Jul 1, 2012 9:00PM

Whihala Beach Park, with the State Line Generating Station looming nearby on the Lake. [reallyboring]

Now that pollution plumes from the area’s three most-infamous coal plants will be ending this year, neighbors in Pilsen, Little Village, and Hammond are wondering what will become of the polluted properties in their midst.

In Northwest Indiana, the situation got a little clearer this week when it was announced that Dominion Energy had contracted with a Texas company to demolish the now shuttered State Line Generating Station. The contract with BTU Solutions will cost $15-25 million and take 18-24 months. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. told the Times of Northwest Indiana:

“One of the biggest fears everybody has when they hear about this project is that we're going to have a huge, hulking former power plant sitting there vacant for years. It sounds like that fear is being taken off the table, which is nice.”
There is little news on plans for remediation of the larger property, which has been the site of a massive coal pile for the 80 years the plant was in operation on the peninsula in Lake Michigan that stands as the State of Indiana’s northernmost point (though it is only accessible on land via Chicago road access). Plans for the site had initially focused on green space and creation of a retail destination, but lingering pollution and ownership issues will likely keep its future “energy-related,” according to a staffer in the Mayor’s office.

Things are even less clear in Chicago, where the Fisk Generating Station in Pilsen and Crawford Generating Station in Little Village are set to close at the end of this year. In hearings on the future of both sites this week, community members expressed concern that the coal plants would become new brownfields since their owners might not be on the hook to remediate the lingering coal ash, asbestos and other contaminants.

All three were considered innovative at the beginning of last century when built by Chicago visionary Samuel Insull to develop what became the city’s electric grid. But perceptions change over a century and as time passed, the coal plants became recognized as dangerous anachronisms that had not kept up with current expectations about public protection from pollution. Now, as the plants are being decommissioned their owners, city officials who oversee the sites will need to consider carefully how the next chapter in the story will be written. It could be one of innovative re-use, or a continuation of the sad brownfield story seen all over Northwest Indiana and Chicago’s South Side.