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Great Lakes Article:

Purchase of steel mill lakefront land first step in shoreline rehab

Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune
Kim Steele

PORTAGE — The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore announced an ambitious timetable Monday for cleaning up and opening to the public 60.63 acres of beachfront property it is purchasing from the U.S. Steel Midwest Plant.

Superintendent Dale Engquist said the existing sewer plant on the property, which currently services U.S. Steel, should be demolished by May 2005. Engquist is hoping the beach will be open for hiking, swimming and fishing in about two years. The land, which lies within the authorized boundaries of the national lakeshore, will cost about $3 million when its purchase is complete soon.

Engquist offered the timetable during a gathering at the U.S. Steel Midwest Plant of politicians and businessmen who have played a part over the years in acquiring the land. Participants included U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, Gov. Joe Kernan, Portage Mayor Doug Olson, and U.S. Steel Executive Vice President of Operations John H. Goodish. “This is a very important day in the history of Northwest Indiana, a happy day for all of us, and a template for the future of lakeshore acquisition,” said Visclosky. “This is how the Marquette project will be put together — one parcel at a time, with the cooperation of industry and government. People have come together to make this a reality.”

Visclosky was referring to the Marquette Greenway, a project designed to revamp much of Indiana’s industrial lakeshore into a playground for the public. His vision is to open 75 percent of the shoreline, about 21 miles long from the Illinois line to Burns Ditch, to free public use. The acquisition in Portage is the first part of the plan. Engquist said the Portage land was restored from industrial use by the former Midwest Division of National Steel, which used it for a pickling operation. Engquist said the national lakeshore is developing a cooperative agreement with Portage for the city to tear down the sewer plant and build recreational facilities on the property.

Also, U.S. Steel will tie into the city’s utilities. “We are committed to working with federal, state and local officials on projects that will serve as catalysts for economic development, diversify the economic base and bring in more taxpayers,” said Goodish, noting U.S. Steel shares the Marquette project vision. “These projects work best and return the biggest benefit when all concerned parties have a seat at the table and work together to achieve a mutual goal.”

The gathering also served as the opening of the South Shore Industrial Safety Overpass off the north end of Indiana 249 in Portage. The half-mile-long bridge, which rises more than 30 feet over U.S. 12, solves the problem of a dangerous crossing involving numerous near-collisions and six accidents. The worst took place June 18, 1998, and killed three South Shore riders. After that crash, federal agencies gave authorities a deadline to make major safety improvements.

Congress appropriated $4.75 million for the overpass in 2000, at Visclosky’s urging. The state donated $1.3 million to the project, and National Steel provided 22 acres for it. The city of Portage served as the project’s local sponsor, and Porter County agreed to maintain the road. Kernan said the state also invested $675,000 for access roads to the bridge, which should be complete in October. Kernan said the construction of the overpass with state and federal money benefits everyone by making commerce safer and more productive.

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