Stericycle Inc. is withdrawing its bid to build an infectious waste processing facility in Michigan City, citing a lack of community support for the project.
“Stericycle’s corporate policy is to place its facilities only in communities where there is strong public support,” Stericycle vice chairman Dr. James Sharp said in a statement today. “Shortly, Stericycle will be locating in other Indiana communities that have invited us to build Stericycle’s safe, effective, environmental sound waste treatment and recycling plants.”
“We thank the Michigan City residents who supported our efforts. We also thank the City Council for giving us the forum to present our views and ideas. We wish you the best for your town.”
City Councilwoman Sheila Bergerson, who had become one of Stericycle’s leading opponents, cheered the company’s withdrawal.
“I think this reflects well on our community that the voice of the people was heard,” she said. “I think the people of LaPorte County spoke out in a very positive way.
“Michigan City has so much going for it, and this type of business did not fit in with what we perceive as the future direction for the city,” she said.
Sharp also cited “uncertainties” over the company’s ability to acquire four acres of land in the South Lake Michigan Industrial Park, where the facility was planned. Control Resource Systems Inc., which owns the property, declined to sell the land to Stericycle after a purchase agreement expired in February. Stericycle, of Rolling Meadows, Ill., had filed a lawsuit against the company, asking a court to order Control Resource Systems to sell the property.
Sharp declined to identify the Indiana communities he said have shown an interest in the plant.
Sharp’s announcement follows nearly two months of growing public opposition to the proposed facility, which the company said would shred, disinfect and prepare for recycling up to 55,000 pounds of medical waste a day.
On Thursday, the board of the city’s Chamber of Commerce declared it could not support Stericycle’s application for a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
The action was the final blow to Stericycle, which had been under almost constant fire since the company’s plans were made public in January. A majority of the Michigan City City Council had expressed opposition to the facility, and more than 2,000 citizens signed petitions urging the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to deny the company an operating permit.
The chamber board, comprised of 15 prominent members of the Michigan City business community, did not declare opposition to Stericycle. But it did say that in light of the level of public opposition to the proposed facility, it could not support the company’s application for a state permit.
“At a time when we need to move as one, the potential for a Stericycle project has impeded the creation of new alliances, caused tension for our residents and shifted our attention away from a focused future made possible by ongoing projects like Horizon 2000, “ the statement said.
Last week, the LaPorte County Medical Society, a professional association of physicians, unanimously adopted a resolution opposing Stericycle’s permit application. While the doctors based their decision on doubts about the technical merits of Stericycle’s proposal, the chamber board stressed the lack of community support.
In its statement, the board said chamber employees worked with Stericycle in the same way they worked with all business prospects: They helped the company find a location with appropriate zoning. Because the chamber is not a permitting agency, it did not have the authority to determine whether the company met technical and safety standards, the board said. That duty falls to the IDEM, which, as part of the permitting process, made the company’s plans public in a legal notice published on Jan. 21, the board said.
The statement clearly sought to address charges from some members of the community that the chamber had tried to keep Stericycle's plans secret from the public.
Board members Tuesday denied that had been the case.
“There was never any ‘hush hush ‘ or ‘back door’ or whatever,” said board member Alan Falkosky, store manager of Sears Roebuck and Co. at Marquette Mall. “As a board, we really don’t get into conversations about a lot of these things.”
Board chairman Robert Darnell said chamber employees sometimes mentioned the company during board meetings, but he said the references were brief and not specific.