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East Chicago, Gary push competing port proposals

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Two northwestern Indiana cities are pushing rival proposals for developing a new $400 million port that would become Indiana's second shipping port on Lake Michigan.

East Chicago and Gary officials will go before a legislative committee next month that is charged with studying the feasibility and economic impact of the port projects.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland told The Times of Munster that his city's proposal calls for a port on the east side of a peninsula that juts from his city into Lake Michigan. It would be near many of ArcelorMittal's steel-making facilities.

The project has the support of the steelmaker, which provided valuable advice as to its location and use, Copeland said. To eventually move forward, he said, the port also would need the backing of the Ports of Indiana.

"It would create jobs — respectable, good-paying jobs," Copeland said. "It gives us an opportunity to work with residents and industry and, bar none, this would be economic development at its highest."

Indiana's only Lake Michigan port is currently the Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor.

Supporters of creating a second port agree that no lakefront port project of any size could be built without the support of the Ports of Indiana, which also operates ports on the Ohio river.

Gary city officials are also expected to testify during a Sept. 12 hearing before a legislative joint study committee about their proposal, which calls for a port at Buffington Harbor.

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the Joint Study Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, promises to hold a fair hearing for the two port projects. Only one of the proposed ports could be built given the limited funding and shipping traffic that may be available.

His committee has invited Gary, East Chicago and representatives of industry to present plans at the committee's hearing at the headquarters of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, Soliday said.

Gary officials are expected to testify about a proposal for a port at Buffington Harbor.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson had a big hand in crafting the legislation calling for the study committee to determine the feasibility of the second port on Lake Michigan.

"The mayor has indicated that the City of Gary will be an active participant on the State Study Commission for the port. Once that body has met, she will be able to give more of an update," Freeman-Wilson's office said in a statement Tuesday.

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