MICHIGAN CITY — More than two decades after officials set their sights on restoring the land, another portion of one of Michigan City's first prominent brownfield properties will see new life.

Earlier this month, the La Porte County Board of Commissioners released the county's right of reversion on a 2-acre property once occupied by the Josam Foundry off U.S. 12, which has undergone extensive environmental remediation since 2000.

The county's action paves the way for 12 East Business Center, the nonprofit that owns the parcel, to sell it to Pioneer Lumber, which is located on a neighboring lot also once occupied by Josam.

According to Jim Kaminski, an attorney representing 12 East Business Center, Pioneer Lumber will use the 2-acre parcel for expansion of the business. The sale will put the property back on the county tax rolls, accomplishing one of the main goals of restoring it, a process that started in the late 1990s.

Last year, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued a restrictive environmental covenant for the 8 acres of brownfield property still under 12 East Business Center's ownership, clearing the way for future development.

The agreement officially marked the end of the brownfield remediation project – started in 1997 – which La Porte County Economic Development Director Tony Rodriguez calls an "outstanding success." 

Rodriguez, while serving as director of the Economic Development Corporation Michigan City, was one of several individuals heavily involved in the cleanup and redevelopment of the former foundry, which closed in 1980. In 1997, then Mayor Sheila Brillson Matias and her administration decided to do something about the vacant property, located in a prominent site, according to Rodriguez.

"It was quite the eyesore," he said.

In 2000, La Porte County transferred ownership to 12 East Business Center, a nonprofit formed via partnership between Michigan City, the EDCMC, NIPSCO, the Delta Institute, a nonprofit that assists Midwest cities with environmental issues; and the Northwest Indiana Forum, an organization devoted to promoting economic development in the region. The nonprofit was established in 1997 to administer redevelopment of the property.

Using a combination of grant dollars and loans, 12 East Business Center led several remediation projects, including demolishing the Josam foundry and smokestack, participating in an IDEM Voluntary Remediation Program, and addressing contaminants in the surrounding area. 

In 2003, Pioneer Lumber purchased a piece of the brownfield property that had been fully rehabilitated, and received environmental clearance to relocate its Michigan City operation from its old home on Trail Creek. Meanwhile, 12 East Business Center continued remediation efforts on the remainder of the property.

Matias, who once helped spearhead the project, had the opportunity to sign the right of reversion release earlier this month as a member of the Board of Commissioners. 

"This major environmental cleanup is an example of true community collaboration," she said Friday. "While the project started during my first term as Michigan City mayor in 1997, we knew, going in, that it would take years to accomplish such a major brownfield cleanup project. 

"The Josam property was an environmental mess, but, with much effort put forth by so many public and private entities, we can proudly say, 'Mission accomplished!' Thank you to everyone involved for making this an example of a successful brownfield remediation project." 

Rodriguez shared those sentiments, saying it's a "blessing" to see a property with a once depressing outlook return to the tax rolls and provide a home for a successful business. 

"It brings a smile to your face to know the seeds you planted for tomorrow truly have an impact," he said.

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