EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (STMW) — An estimated 180,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment is scheduled to be removed from the Indiana Harbor and Canal starting in April.

Staff from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and dredging contractors Kokosing Construction Co. and O’Brien & Gere discussed the dredging and air monitoring aspects of the project at a Thursday meeting.

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Since 2012, the project has dredged roughly 400,000 cubic yards of sediment out of an estimated backlog of 1.6 million cubic yards and stored it in a confined disposal facility. Prior to 2012, dredging hadn’t occurred in 40 years because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that the previous open-water disposal method was unacceptable.

The canal is part of the EPA’s Grand Calumet River Area of Concern because of its historical contamination by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycylclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals.

Aaron Harke, a project manager with the Durocher Marine division of Kokosing, said the dredging start date depends on ice conditions on Lake Michigan. A boat that is used in the project is moored in Chicago with no way to get it to East Chicago, he said.

O’Brien & Gere operations manager Scott McQueen and site technician Scott Peterson said air quality at the combined disposal facility hasn’t been an issue.

McQueen said the only troublesome event occurred on June 20, 2013, when a machine kicked up dust and caused a particulate problem, but the contractor was notified and water was used to tamp down the dust.

In addition to the four monitoring stations at the disposal area, Harke said workers at the dredging site wear badges that collect compounds in the air that are shipped off to a lab daily.

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“But they have never exceeded one-tenth of the allowable average,” he said.

Brian Kootstra, a civil engineer with the Army Corps, said dredging tends to occur closest to the lake, where the harbor sees the most traffic and more sediment is created.

Harke said the dredging will go on until funds allocated by Congress run out, but he admitted that the funding doesn’t fully address the backlog.

“If funding stays this way, it will never be finished and it will always be maintenance dredging,” he said. “Sediment always accumulates.”

John Bakota, who is on the board of the East Chicago Waterway Management District, is happy about the dredging but wishes it was being done environmental reasons rather than a navigational ones because it could better deal with issues such as oil sheens on the Lake George section of the canal, east of Indianapolis Boulevard.

The EPA is investigating the source of the oil, which was present before the dredging started, according to Lt. Col. Kevin Lovell, the Army Corps’ deputy commander of its Chicago District.

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