Dyer officials urge patience with IDEM's response to potential contamination
Dyer residents want more action from the town, when it comes to investigating and cleaning up potential environmental contamination.
On September 15, construction crews working on the south end of Magnolia Avenue noticed a petroleum smell, and a meter detected the presence of benzene, which has been linked to health issues with long-term exposure. It turns out the area had been the site of pipeline leaks in late 1965.
That's according to town council member Bob Starkey, who's also a pipeline engineer with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. "Some of the questions you have, we still have," Starkey told residents during Wednesday's town council meeting. "It's just a matter of getting everybody rowing in the right direction."
In the decades since the leaks, the pipeline has changed hands at least twice and was retired in 2013, so there isn't believed to be an active leak.
Now, it's up to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to conduct testing and recommend remediation measures. There's no timeline for how long that might take.
But Dyer resident Shawn Myers felt the town can't just sit back and wait for IDEM. "We don't even know how far the contamination goes," Myers told council members. "We don't even know if it's on the other side of the tracks. It could be in [council member] Annette Annette Ludwig's community over there. It could be farther down. We don't know."
Starkey said Dyer is testing the soil that's been removed from the site. He stressed that the town's water supply is constantly monitored, and the one home in the area that uses a private well has been notified.
And while Hammond has used American Rescue Plan money to clean up lead contamination, Dyer Town Attorney Adam Sedia said in this case, it's best to leave it to IDEM. "Indiana state law forbids any unit of local government from taking any action or regulating anything that the state is given the power to regulate," Sedia explained. "That's called preemption. And it's a big deal, and the courts will shut you down if you try to step on the state's toes."
He also advised the council against taking its own legal action against former pipeline owners. "These Clean Water Act suits are hugely expensive ordeals," Sedia said. "You'll be going against, now that the pipeline's shut down, potentially, BP, which has investments in town. You know, you're not being a good neighbor that way."
Sedia said another challenge is the amount of time since the actual leaks occurred and whether the town has standing to bring a lawsuit.
Council members promised to keep residents informed of any developments.