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View of Lake Michigan :: Beach Closings

data source: [ Indiana BeachGuard System ]

For the past seven summers our family has been going to Whilhala beach in Whiting for an evening walk or a swim. This summer we got a pool and the weather has been too cool so we haven’t gone until Tuesday. On Tuesday the kids and I decided to go for a nice end of the day swim in the lake after swimming all day in the pool. When we got to the beach we found they had changed their policies and closed the beach area at 6 pm. We couldn’t even take a walk. The kids were disappointed, not only could they not go swimming that evening, but something they have always taken for granted suddenly came to an end. My answer to their cries at that moment was to agree with them – it wasn’t right and I didn’t understand why they closed the beach, but to make it up to them I promised to take them to Indiana Dunes the next day – Thursday.

Map of the Region

Later that evening I found this article in the NWTimes “Vandalism prompts partial closing of Whihala Beach

photo source: John Luke, the Times

Increased gang activity has forced the county to close the Hammond side of Whihala Beach until further notice, a Lake County parks official said Tuesday.

The following day the kids and I got up and prepared for a day at the Dunes. When we got to the park, they were eager to get into the water. I slowed them down a bit by diverting their attention to hiking first.

This is perhaps my favorite view of Lake Michigan from its southern shores. From here you can imagine the beauty that once was throughout this spectacular region.

Once the kids made their way to the beach they were in the water immediately. Unfortunately, it was no more than 5 minutes later that a voice announced that all swimmers had to come out of the water – the water was too polluted for their safety. I could see the frustration race across Marta’s face. Moments before this video she was in tears.

I could not be more disappointed in my community leaders. I am tired of fighting to stop them from ignoring the problems, problems for which they are directly responsible and from which they benefit.

When we got home I realized I had forgotten to ask for a refund, and I found this frontpage article in the Post -Tribune “Local beaches perform poorly in water tests

The Testing the Waters report, released Wednesday by the National Resources Defense Council, shows that beaches in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties had advisories for bacteria or were closed because of bacteria 333 times in 2008, a 56 percent increase from the 213 events in 2007.

That’s up from 111 advisories and closings in 2006.

Overall, 18 percent of the beach samples taken in Indiana last year had bacteria levels higher than the recommended levels. That put the state 28th of the 32 states tested. The report includes samples from any coastal, bay or Great Lakes state.

And then there was this little nugget from Tom Anderson the Director of the Safe the Dunes Council.

Anderson said not knowing the source of the pollutants makes it hard for local officials and groups to fight the problem.

“It’s like where should we focus something if we don’t know where it’s coming from?” Anderson said.

He called for source testing to be included in the study, but that has its own problems. The federal act that requires the testing does not provide funding for source testing, said Amber Finkelstein, a public information officer for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Low-cost solutions for bringing down bacteria levels are available, however, Anderson said. He pointed to Michigan City, which recently prohibited people from feeding birds and bought lids for garbage cans.

<Public Disclosure>

It might be prudent here to mention that “Save the Dunes” recently received a large grant from BP. Oh, and may be I ought to mention that Tom Anderson serves on the Indiana Air pollution Control Board. The same board that recently re-designated Northwest Indiana from a Non-attainment zone to an attainment zone for Sulfur Dioxide. It may also be important to know that BP is presently retooling its Whiting refinery to process the high sulfur product coming out of the Alberta Tar Sands. Anyhow, I always thought Tom meant well.

</Public Disclosure>

Knowing that the water current flows counter clockwise in Lake Michigan, it is not hard to imagine who the source could be, especially with such acutely high levels of bacteria over 600/100ml.

Two views of Burns Harbor: 1) Looking west from the Indiana Dunes State Park, and 2) satellite image

Then there is this very glaring problem. I suppose most communities would have dealt with this in a previous era. Yes that is a known contaminated creek flushing right into the middle of the state beach. When it reaches the lake IDEM expects that “Dilution will be the Solution” to keep bathers safe. We wouldn’t have it any other way in Northwest Indiana. Do you suppose this could have a negative effect on tourism?

Via Save the Dunes [ Dunes Creek Watershed ]

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report “Testing the Waters 2009” tends to take a national perspective when it comes to the problem of identifying the main sources of pollution causing the beach closings. Nationally “Runoff” accounts for 36% of the sources of pollution, with 62% as unknown. However, in Indiana 99% of the source of contamination is considered “unknown.” In my mind this is a criminal disregard for the health of the public.  The same “unknown” used to defend the largest landowners with the greatest intensive uses on Indiana’s Urban Lake Front.

More than 90% of our urban Lakefront is owned by three large industries; BP Whiting – the largest oil refinery in the Midwest, Arcelormittal – the largest integrated Steel Mill in the Country, and U.S. Steel – the second largest Steel Mill. Additionally the big three own the majority rights to our air and watersheds. If there is a major environmental problem, you can generally point to them as the source. They are also effective at using the marginal effects of non-point source pollution such as surface runoff and vehicular pollution to offset criticisms of their discharges. IDEM repeats these same constructed arguments. Granted runoff is a large contributor to the problem, but we also know from whom the contaminants are running.

View of Shoreline Industries from the breakwall at the Hammond Marina

IDEM regulates both industrial and municipal discharges. The cities are not with out fault. They have yet to separate storm water from their sewage systems which contributes to the surface runoff problem. To know the source is easy, to not – is to ignore the problem.

It doesn’t hurt industries interests that the Commissioner of IDEM is Tom Easterly, the environmental Director for Bethlehem Steel (now owned by ArcelorMittal) and Nisource, and who once told a table of Great Lake Commissioners over lunch that:


“there is no need for recreation or commercial fishing in the Great Lakes because there were never any natural fisheries here. The Great Lakes are no better than stocked ponds.”


With one of the highest concentrations of heavy industries in the country, It follows that Indiana’s urban Lake front would also see some of the highest levels of pollution. And in fact the data bares this out. Not only do we know that the indiana Harbor Shipping Canal is the most polluted waterway in the country, but according to the NRDC Study “Testing the Waters 2008” East Chicago’s Jeorse Park Beach ranks third in the nation, and first in Great Lakes, for exceeding Daily National Standards. The geographical center of BP, Mittal and US Steel is East Chicago’s Joerse Park Beach. This make Joerse Park Beach ground zero for some of the highest levels of pollutants in beach waters in the country.

<Clearing the Waters>

The source of pollution is ignorance and we know who the agents of ignorance are. They are self interested community and industrial leaders, who like to pretend that the problems stem from decisions made by “the public.” The source of our pollution is the same as the source of our public corruption. They go hand in hand. The only difference is that the private actors in this dance do not go to jail.

</Clearing the Waters>

– Now, off to the Michigan Dunes

  1. May 4th, 2011 at 18:46 | #1

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  2. Tom Anderson
    July 2nd, 2011 at 02:46 | #2


    You are somewhat wrong on any BP grant Save the Dunes Council ever received. I would be happy to set your record straight. Also, let me answer any questions you have on air quality and redesignation requirements.


  3. July 2nd, 2011 at 18:45 | #3

    Tom –

    Thank you for your opinion. My record is fine – no scratches or financial entanglements. The quality of our air-shed speaks volumes about the active agents managing its care. I welcome your story as well as those who have also played an important role in it’s impaired state. So “set the record straight.”

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