October 05, 2023
Reconnecting with Team & Terrain
ELPC 2023 Staff Retreat Includes Visits to Communities & Natural Areas We Fight to Protect
Last week, ELPC staff came together from multiple offices for our annual retreat. We met at ELPC headquarters in Chicago to discuss our work and plan for future goals while sharing insight from various states. The next day, we visited some communities and natural areas, where staff met with local partners/clients to hear their first-hand perspectives. Here are some highlights:
Chicago’s Southeast Side
Our first stop was in Calumet Park, a lakefront green space on the Southeast Side of Chicago just a stone’s throw from Indiana, which sits next door to a toxic waste dump known as the Chicago Confined Disposal Facility (CDF). ELPC is representing the Alliance of the Southeast (ASE) and Friends of the Parks (FOTP) to protect the community from this shoreline waste. We want to ensure the facility does not expand, is not moved elsewhere in the community, and is ultimately turned into a park, as promised. We spoke with Amalia NietoGomez from ASE and Juanita Irizzary of FOTP, and heard from ELPC lawyers on the case about how the CDF poses a threat to the local environmental justice community and clean water in Lake Michigan.
Northwest Indiana is a unique and extraordinary place, combining diverse communities, Lake Michigan shoreline, and a national park and state park, all alongside highly-polluting industrial facilities. After our successful Cleveland Cliffs lawsuit to hold an Indiana steel mill responsible for a major spill in 2019, ELPC stepped up our work in the region as a watchdog for industry and resource for local residents.
In Gary, Indiana, we heard from Kimmy Gordon and Carolyn McCready of Gary Advocates for Responsible Development, who are working with ELPC to protect their community from dangerous industrial facilities. We visited the site of a proposed waste incinerator, which would be across the street from a k-12 school and an artesian well. This spring-fed water source has great importance for local residents, as we heard from a woman who came by to fill her water bottle. As we noted in our comments, industrial facilities are disproportionately sited in the low-income communities of color in Northwest Indiana. These folks deserve clean water and air as much as everybody else.
Indiana Dunes National Park
We stopped at the new Indiana Dunes National Park visitor center in Portage, Indiana to hear from Chief Park Ranger Rich Eshenauer about his experiences with environmental law enforcement in the park. We next met with Betsy Maher of Save the Dunes, a historic local advocacy organization that was instrumental in saving the state and national parks and has continued to build on their work for preservation, education, and sustainability.
We also discussed the successful Cleveland Cliffs steel mill case, which culminated in substantive safety changes at the plant, a financial penalty, and a land donation planned for cleanup and incorporation into the park. After a delicious lunch from Smoke on the Water, a local Mexican barbecue eatery, we went for a hike!
Did you know? Indiana is home to the fourth most biodiverse national park in the country. To see this ecosystem up close, ELPC staff enjoyed a hike at Cowles Bog, a trail named for Dr. Henry Cowles’ ecological research here on the concept of “succession” over 100 years ago. We saw an array of flowers, ferns, bees, and birds, guided by volunteer educator Cookie Ferguson.
We’re all in this together
From the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, the Midwest is full of vibrant communities, rich natural resources, and wild places that ELPC fights to protect. But we can’t do it alone! We rely on many partners, clients, funders, public officials, scientists, and folks like you. Support our work across the region today.