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Facing dust complaints, Morgan County concrete company seeks Indiana permit renewal

Company seeks permit renewal

BETHANY, Ind. (WISH) — A small town southwest of Indianapolis is covered with a mysterious dust again, and residents believe it’s making them sick.

I-Team 8 broke this story three years ago in the town of Bethany. The Morgan County town of about 100 residents is near Martinsville, or about a 40-minute drive from downtown Indianapolis.

The dust is a gritty, sand-like material that, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, comes from a specialty concrete company.

Indiana’s Environmental Management has fined the company and issued warning letters, but the dust keeps coming.

I-Team 8 has been to the facility several times in the past three years, and the company promises to do better and to communicate with residents, but the complaints keep coming.

Bethany resident Nichole Mead said, “Especially this spring was partially bad, which is what started all of this. We were all getting nose bleeds. We were all getting very ill. I reported all of this to the EPA,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The home Mead and her husband share is separated from the Arcosa concrete plant by a 1,000-foot buffer. The buffer, or easement, was put into place by the town government’s zoning board in 2007. The easement is supposed to protect the adjacent homeowners from the Arcosa mining operation.

This spring, Mead noticed the mining operation was getting closer to her house. By her measurements, the company crossed over the line by almost 200 feet.

Her calls to the company were ignored, so she organized her neighbors on who to call at the EPA.

“I walked house to house down the road and was handing out phone numbers for people in the neighborhood to call to start reporting these things, who to contact for the air pollution, who to contact for the land violations, how to file with EPA, things like that. So, within a day, quite a few of our neighbors started contacting Laura Parker (with the EPA. Her office said she was no longer accepting phone calls on the matter, so they just kept calling back, and I was like, ‘Fine. Call back tomorrow,’ and that’s what they did and everybody kept on it, and she actually filled a cease-and-desist order with them, and they had to stop work and they are having to replace all that land and trees.” 

I-Team 8 flew one of its Avi8tor drones over the area for a better look.

Mead says the area effected is supposed to have been left alone. The company has been ordered to replace what they removed.

Arcosa and the residents of Bethany have been at odds for a couple years. I-Team 8 first showed the gritty dust coming from the plant in March 2020. At the time, the company said it had decreased the number of violations reported to Indiana’s Environmental Management and was having conversations with residents.

Since 2019, Environmental Management has issued five enforcement letters and levied $17,000 in fines for violations.

Mead says the fines and enforcement letters have had no effect on the dust coming from the plant.

“Again, they just pay to pollute over and over again,” Mead said. 

If the state renews Arcosa’s permits, Mead is expecting the company to expand.

County leaders recently rezoned much of the land around the mining operation as intensive agricultural, a new classification that allows mineral extraction and processing.

Much of the land surrounding Arcosa and the town of Bethany is now zoned for intensive agriculture. Mead says she and her husband have no intention of moving or selling.  

“The pieces (of land) that have been sold, the pieces that were sold in ’07 were devastating to our neighborhood. We have seen the cause and reaction to those things and … I know it is stupid to say we care more about our neighbors, but we really do.”

Arcosa is asking the state to renew its permits to operate. The permits’ applications are under review.