Following a rally at the You Are Beautiful site, a large group marched on City Hall to attend an IURC Hearing on NIPSCO's request to raise rates to pay for cleanup of the coal ash ponds at Michigan City Generating Station. Staff photo by Jeff Mayes
Following a rally at the You Are Beautiful site, a large group marched on City Hall to attend an IURC Hearing on NIPSCO's request to raise rates to pay for cleanup of the coal ash ponds at Michigan City Generating Station. Staff photo by Jeff Mayes
MICHIGAN CITY – The gathering at City Hall featured all ages, races, economic levels and areas of Michigan City – with one thing in common: They don't want to pay for a partial cleanup of NIPSCO's lakefront generating station.

The group rallied outside before marching en masse to City Hall, where they gave regulators an earful at an Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission field hearing on the rate case, in which the utility wants to raise electric rates to pay for the estimated $40 million cleanup of toxic coal ash on the site.

Beverly Mack Martin said she was speaking "on behalf of 84-year-old Annie Mae Garrett, who lives just a stone's throw from the plant and suffers severe asthma and arthritis ... she's lived 30 years in view of the cooling tower ... a prisoner in her own home due to her disabilities..."

Martin said she met Garrett at a community meeting, "and when they explained what NIPSCO wanted to do, she said, 'First they made me sick. Now they want me to pay to clean it up ... and still leave all that mess here to make me sicker?'

"At that point I realized somebody had to speak for Ms. Garrett and all the Ms. Garretts in our town," Mack Martin said.

She said malignant neoplasm, a form of cancer, is the No. 1 cause of death among Blacks in Michigan City. Caused by toxic chemicals, "They kill mostly the elderly, like Ms. Garrett.

"When I went back to talk to her, she said the doctor had found lumps in her throat and she was being referred. Will she be the next?"

Giselle Perry spoke of taking her grandson to the beach and "it was raining down black ... my grandson was a whole other color."

She said at first she didn't know what happened until she heard about coal ash. "We are running around with children with asthma and sinus problems, I've never been a nasally person except the last 4-5 years, and we're supposed to pay to clean it up?

"I'm at the poverty level and can't do it. Everything is going up and so why are we being held liable for the cleanup. It's just not right."

Michigan City has about 32,000 people and approximately 30%, like Perry, are at or below the poverty level, according to Common Council member Don Przybylinki.

"It's a great place to live but not the wealthiest place. Even small costs add for the less fortunate."

And, he said, the last NIPSCO rate hike cost the city $115,000 and forced them to cut some services, and they'd rather not do it again.

The Council is hearing a resolution opposing the rate increase "due to the adverse impact on struggling families ... and we want a cleanup plan to remove the full 2 million tons of coal ash," Council President Angie Nelson Deuitch said.

"You're raising rates and we're gonna have to live with that toxic base on the site. Our poverty rate is higher than most areas. We know our families are struggling and adamantly oppose this. ... It they're not doing a full cleanup, they can come back with a new plan."

Maria Hoang, a 2022 Marquette High graduate, said she was speaking "for young people who are not ratepayers," but will be someday. "I refuse to let my money be taken.

"I was born two miles from the toxic mess on the lake. Will water pollution or the cost of it deny me the things I like, such as planting plants? ... I demand all of the coal ash be addressed, not just 10%."

John Mauldin of Gary said, "Allowing this would be negligent to every community in NWI. The coal ash cleanup was a moment of corporate responsibility, but NIPSCO showed their true colors by only cleaning 10%...

"Families should not have to pay for others' negligence, that we have to live next to as well ... NIPSCO is asking the victims of its negligence over the course of decades to pay for it ... a rate hike for irresponsible actions is anything but just."

Dominic Yanke, a 2019 Michigan City High graduate, said he has suffered from "severe, persistent asthma most of my life ... there are days I cannot leave my house because of the pollution..."

And, he added, "My grandma is on Social Security and can barely make it as is ... I don't want her to have to scrounge for money."

Hannah Kilbourne, 12, said, "My family struggles to pay for gas, food and many other things ... I feel sorry for families with less ... NIPSCO should be accountable, clean up their mess and pay their fair share."

Laura Henderson said she loves "Michigan City, our lake and our national park. If I make a mess of garbage on my property, do I ask Social Security to pay to clean it up? NIPSCO should pay for total cleanup."

Donnita Scully of the NAACP La Porte County Branch, said she was formerly a home health nurse working in Trail Creek, and cared for many people with cancers.

"When we moved there, we made a pact not to drink the water. We've purchased water for 30 years. But many can't afford to purchase water and shouldn't have to."

She asked the IURC, "How do we value and protect human life? Dispose of all the toxic ash from behind the sea wall...

"If you break a window in your home, your utility bill will go up, and the homeowner is responsible for the new window and the higher bill. We ask NIPSCO to be more accountable for the coal ash without help from the public."

The cost of the cleanup should be considered a maintenance and operations cost, "not a capital cost that they can profit from," said Sue Thomas of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Federal law "says the cleanup must leave the site decontaminated, and they cannot comply without full removal of coal ash."

Hobart resident Joseph Conn talked about taking his sailboat from the harbor in Michigan City to Mount Baldy and seeing the damage to the seawall.

"That wall is going to collapse," he said. "This rate case is premature. Tell NIPSCO no and to come back with a plan to protect people. It will be an environmental disaster if that revetment fails."

And while Richard Gersch told the IURC that he realizes forcing NIPSCO to do more cleanup work "is not in your authority," he said, "you can delay this until EPA tells NIPSCO to clean up all of the coal ash."

Anthony Lewis of Michigan City agreed, saying, "100% cleanup of the mess made in Michigan City is the only acceptable outcome ... these people are committed to not paying a company to poison us, this is an embarrassment."

"Not only misleading, but morally wrong," were the words used by Ashley Williams of Just Transition Northwest Indiana to describe the rate case. She called it a "textbook example of environmental racism.

"NIPSCO's industrial customers are responsible for the worst pollution in Indiana, but they use the most electricity so they get a discount. I know you do not regulate coal ash, but you don't have to fund this proposal that will lead to our demise."

Tina Mahone was born and raised on the west side, went to college to become an engineer and moved away.

"I brought my family back here and now my concern is my three kids and my grandkids – we enjoy Michigan City; and my parents, as soon as they walk out their front door the first thing they see is the tower."

She said while growing up, "I used to wonder why sometimes it rained on the west side, but not the east side ... I asked my parents if the tower made it rain," adding she never knew how dangerous that "rain" was.

She said she helped lead the effort to bring improvements to Pullman Park, "and now I feel guilty because the kids play there, kids who look just like me.

"Should we pay for NIPSCO's irresponsible energy projects when they're killing us? Doesn't seem right. Seems like the polluter wins."
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