EAST CHICAGO — Tens of thousands of cubic yards of contaminated soil are being removed from a brownfield site on Kennedy Avenue, with plans to build a one million square-foot logistics center on it as soon as the work is done.

"Provided Mother Nature cooperates, we should be done with the remediation in late 2020," said Scott Aschoff, principal at Impact Environmental, which is managing the work. The pad for the new building would then be ready by the spring of 2021, he said, and the building would be completed by the end of that year.

The partnership, in conjunction with DuPont and its subsidiary Chemours, first has to perform the Environmental Protection Agency-approved plan to clean the site of contaminants that include arsenic, lead, cadmium and zinc.

The $26.6 million environmental remediation of the former DuPont industrial site at 5215 Kennedy Ave. began in September with the clearing of trees, and will ultimately involve removal of about 60,000 cubic yards of soil, according to Aschoff, who is also co-owner and partner of East Chicago Gateway Partners, which will build the logistics center.

"We are an in-house remediation and development firm," Aschoff said. That allows an "integrated process" that "turns projects around quicker."

The Lake County IN Economic Alliance has been involved in finding a new use for the land since 2014. Bringing in a partnership to clean the site and prepare it for use was crucial for the economic development organization.

"You need a hand-in-glove relationship with remediation and redevelopment," said Karen Lauerman, president and CEO of LCEA.

The site as a whole covers about 438 acres on the north bank of the Grand Calumet River. About 170 of those will be maintained as a natural area, and future buildings on the site will include observation decks to look out over the dune and swale ecosystem.

The "box" should cost $2 million to $48 million, he said, with a tenant building it out to its own specifications.

Aschoff said East Chicago Gateway  Partners will start on a second building as soon as the first one is done.

"Once you start putting up the walls," he said of potential tenants, "they see the timeline, they know the community's behind them, it goes real fast."

The construction project will require 270 workers, Aschoff said. The new logistics center will employ up to 1,000.

The site is near the Gary/Chicago International Airport and major highways, which makes it ideally located for a logistics center, Aschoff said. It is also in a federal Opportunity Zone, which provides investors tax breaks on capital gains income they invest in the zone.

Aschoff said the financial benefits offered by opportunity zones, which cover much of the northern tier of Lake County, have made it attractive to investors.

"An opportunity zone does not make a bad project good, but it can make a good project a great project," Aschoff said.

The degree of the tax benefit depends on how long the investor remains in the opportunity fund.

Milton Reed, a consultant for East Chicago who's managing community relations for the project, said the project will solve a long-term environmental problem while providing jobs for residents.

"The fix is finally here in a major, major way," he said of East Chicago Gateway  Partners’ plans for the DuPont site.

Impact Environmental’s work has mainly been in the east. Lauerman hopes it’s just the first company to find potential in Lake County.

"They found the diamond in the rough. I think others will follow suit," Lauerman said.

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