TERRE HAUTE —
The federal government will be paying to clean up a 39-acre former industrial dump site along the Wabash River in Terre Haute.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirmed Tuesday that it will clean up property on the east side of the Wabash near Hulman Street. The property is between the river and Prairieton Road and was found earlier this year to have high levels of lead in the soil.
At the time lead was confirmed at the site, it was unclear whether the EPA, the City of Terre Haute or “potentially responsible parties” would pay for the cleanup.
Jason Sewell, onsite coordinator for the EPA’s emergency response branch, told the Tribune-Star on Tuesday that the federal agency will hire EPA-approved contractors for the cleanup. However, those identified as “potentially responsible” for the contamination could still be asked to reimburse the EPA once work is complete, he said.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve given up on action,” he said. It is not yet known how much the clean up will cost, Sewell said.
The EPA has identified four potentially responsible parties, Sewell stated. The agency is not yet prepared to identify who those parties are. Even the City of Terre Haute has not yet learned who they are, said Chuck Ennis, city engineer, speaking Tuesday.
The City of Terre Haute took ownership of the land last year at no cost from Sugar Creek Scrap, a West Terre Haute-based company. The city needed the land as a location for a planned “floatable control structure,” which is part of the city’s multi-million-dollar plan for reducing sewage overflows into the Wabash River, something mandated by the EPA and the federal Clean Water Act.
Construction of the floatable control structure could begin as early as this spring, Ennis said. However, he does not expect the EPA cleanup to be completed by that time, he said.
The EPA and city officials conducted a conference call Tuesday morning. That conversation helped impress the EPA with the importance of the site, Sewell said. That’s because of the city’s completed plans for the floatable control structure and also because the city wants to build a hiking and biking trail along the Wabash River in that area.
“The proximity to the [future] trail demonstrates another way the public could be exposed” to contaminants at the site, Sewell said.
Once started, the cleanup could take weeks or months, depending upon whether other contaminants are discovered in the process, Sewell said. The initial testing earlier this year, which uncovered the high levels of lead, was designed to discover obvious problems. Once ground starts being moved in the cleaning up process, more problems could be discovered, he said.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@