Opinion: Northwest Indiana saw 2020 sustainable transportation wins

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"Clean Karma" by Wendelin Jacober is marked with CC0 1.0

There is no doubt 2020 will be a year that will not soon be forgotten.

In spite of the challenges and tragedies, the year was not without its victories. We often say our success is our South Shore Clean Cities members’ success and 2020 served as a perfect example. When they are successful, we all benefit from cleaner air, increased energy security, greater investment in domestic fuels, reduced dependence on imported oil, local job creation and much more.

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Perhaps the most notable gains in 2020 came in the form of more than $5.5 million from the Indiana Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust (Indiana VW) Fund for 144 vehicles and pieces of equipment for our members and partners. We were thrilled to write the successful grant applications.

South Shore Clean Cities members and partners in November were awarded $206,000 in Indiana VW funds to aid in the expansion of public electric vehicle (EV) charging stations across communities in Northern Indiana. The Indiana VW Committee approved the grant applications for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) and the Michiana Area Council of Governments metropolitan planning organizations last month.

The projects involve a total of 24 Level 2 EV charging stations in 18 communities, including Crown Point, Gary, Lake Station, Michigan City, Whiting, Hammond, Portage, Burns Harbor, Highland, Merrillville and Munster.

The Level 2 EV charging stations lessen the burden on taxpayers by maximizing the use of grant opportunities to fund sustainable transportation infrastructure on public properties.

We partnered with NIPSCO for an incentive program dubbed Project Plug-IN for the EV charging station grant applications. NIPSCO pledged a cash match of up to $500 for each successful grant application submitted that met eligibility criteria and we thank them for their support.

Supporting EV use

These charging stations will help accelerate the adoption of EVs and will serve as destinations for their owners, helping to support the local economy while improving air quality. We applaud the leadership at NIRPC as well as the local municipal leaders for embracing sustainable transportation and encourage others to follow their example.

In August, our members and partners were awarded more than $5.3 million in Indiana VW funds, 94% of the successful projects. The projects involve a total of 120 vehicles with fueling systems ranging from compressed natural gas to liquid propane gas, clean diesel and electric. Crown Point Community School Corp., Lake Central School Corp., Michigan City Area Schools, School City of Hammond and Ozinga’s Gary location were among the recipients. Those funds will bring the first electric school bus to the Region when it is added to the Crown Point Community School Corp. fleet.

In late October, our members and partners, with our assistance, were awarded more than $800,000 through the Indiana Office of Energy Development’s Public Safety Resilience and Clean Community Challenge grant programs. The funds are supporting a variety of projects, including nine all-electric, hybrid and E85 vehicles.

The Public Safety Resilience grant projects include all-electric vehicle parking enforcement for the Valparaiso Police Department, an all-electric security vehicle for the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor and hybrid emergency response vehicles for the City of Hobart, Town of Cedar Lake, Town of Dune Acres and the City of Whiting. These vehicles all help to ensure emergency responders will be able to respond in case of a natural disaster or other interruption to traditional fueling options when we need them most.

The Clean Community Challenge grants are supporting energy-efficient LED street lighting for the downtown for the Highland Redevelopment Commission, propane refueling infrastructure for the School City of Hammond and two new E85-fueled vehicles for the Disabled American Veterans.

As you can see, there was much to celebrate in 2020 and we look forward to even more success in 2021. What will you pledge to do to support sustainability in 2021?

Remember, it’s never too late to begin your environmental legacy.

Carl Lisek is the Executive Director of South Shore Clean Cities. This column originally appeared in The Times of Northwest Indiana.

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