$24 million clean up continues at proposed site for new criminal justice complex

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- For 99 years, Citizens Energy Group made coke at its East Prospect Street site for the steel industry and coke oven gas to heat Indianapolis homes.

When the plant shut down in 2007, the air over the east side became cleaner, but the land left behind and the creek bed on the property were contaminated by coal tar deposits.

Now that Mayor Joe Hogsett has chosen the 140-acre site as the potential home for his proposed criminal justice center campus, Citizens faces an eventual deadline to finish its cleanup of the land to possibly hand it over to the city so that the location might someday house a new jail, sheriff’s office, courthouse, medical center and law and community corrections buildings.

“I wouldn’t think of (putting) any building on that piece of ground right now. It's contaminated,” said Flinora Frazier, a longtime resident of the neighboring Norwood community. “Probably take years to get that out of there, wouldn’t you think?”

Citizens Energy is entering its second decade of cleaning up the mess, a century-old reminder of heavy industry left behind.

“About $12 million will be spent on demolition first and that process is almost complete. We’ve spent about $12 million in over the past decade on environmental studies as well as some environmental remediation work,” said Dan Considine, corporate communications manager for the utility. “A great deal of work will be done in the next few years as we accommodate the construction of the justice center.”

The city will need about a third of the property east of Fountain Square for a criminal justice campus.

Considine said coal tar deposits on the land are inert and don’t migrate but have settled into the bed of Pleasant Run Creek, which runs through the land.

“We have found some deposits of coal tar in the sediments of the creek, in the mud under the creek, and we have filed a plan with Indiana Department of Environmental Management to remove those deposits starting this summer,” said Considine. “There are some impacts to the shallow ground water but not the deep ground water. The ground water here and Pleasant Run Creek, neither one of those is used as a source for drinking water.”

The creek has traditionally been one of the most polluted waterways in Marion County due to decades of the combined sewer run off overflow during times of heavy rainfall.

Citizens Energy’s purchase of the water utility from the city several years ago placed responsibility for correcting that engineering dilemma on the company and its rate payers.

Coal tar is used in asphalt and skin care products. In some cases of heavy concentrations, it can be considered a carcinogen.

“The deposits of coal tar here are not a threat to human health,” said Considine. “In some cases the coal tar deposits will be removed. In other cases they will be left in place because they pose no threat to human health or the environment so they’ll be paved over.

“In areas where there’s buildings there will be appropriate measures of remediation taken to accommodate those buildings and in other areas where there’s parking lots, there’ll be another level of remediation.”

The former coke plant property was chosen over at least ten other sites as the potential home of the criminal justice center due to its size, location, access to main streets, proximity to criminal justice challenges and acceptance of neighbors.

The Hogsett Administration faces an end-of-the-month deadline to list a financing plan to pay for the campus at an estimated $400 million.

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