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Cleveland-Cliffs to pay $3 million in settlement for spill on Lake Michigan

Ken Lund
An aerial image of the ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor facility — now owned by Cleveland-Cliffs —in 2014.

A northwest Indiana steel maker has agreed to make upgrades to prevent spills in Lake Michigan’s waterways and pay $3 million in penalties.

Cleveland-Cliffs reached a legal settlementwith environmental groups, the state, and the federal government on Monday over past water violations.

In 2019, ArcelorMittal spilled excess cyanide and ammonia into the east branch of the Little Calumet River — killing thousands of fish and causing nearby beaches to close. That triggered a nearly three year-long legal battlewith environmental groups.

Kiana Courtney is a staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center — one of the plaintiffs in the case. She said the group is excited to see upgrades at the plant that will help it prevent spills.

That includes setting up a system to treat ammonia in its wastewater — something Courtney said the mill didn’t really have before.

“Especially given the consistent ammonia exceedances at the plant in the summers, it’s important that this injunctive relief exists," she said.

Under the agreement, Cleveland-Cliffs will do more water quality testing and transfer some of its property next to Indiana Dunes National Park into a land trust for conservation. The park could later decide to acquire that land. The company will also improve how it lets residents know about spills.

“It is important that both the towns and its residents — in addition to IDEM and concerned organizations — be aware of what's going into the water that they fish in and swim in and use," Courtney said.

READ MORE: ELPC: New violations show ArcelorMittal hasn’t solved its problems

In a statement, Cleveland-Cliffs said that environmental stewardship was one of the company's core values and is an essential part of its business strategy:

"The company recognizes that all aspects of steelmaking must be accomplished in a responsible manner that minimizes impacts on the environment. Cliffs continues to focus on its environmental systems and performance across all its operations. Cleveland-Cliffs looks forward to working with the federal and state governments, as well as the citizen groups, on implementing the consent decree requirements."

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

Rebecca Thiele