Mar 10 2011

Mayor McDermott Responds to Unilever Lack of Community Responsibility

Published by Tom McDermott Jr. at 4:24 pm under General

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has issued the following comments in response to recent statements made by Unilever plant manager Brad Tieke to the Times of Northwest Indiana on March 6, 2011. In that article, Mr. Tieke claimed that the company did not cause a blockage in Robertsdale area sewers after it discharged 100,000 pounds of fat and grease from its factory.

I am shocked, dismayed and disappointed by Mr. Tieke’s remarks. Unilever’s assertion that their dumping more than 50 tons of grease and fat into city sewers was not the cause of the New Year’s Eve back up into nearby homes is ridiculous. As Mayor, I believe that we need to focus on solutions, and not the assignment of blame. As an attorney, I understand the reluctance of some companies to openly admit wrongdoing due to a fear of lawsuits and legal action. However, the preponderance of evidence in this particular case is so obvious that any claim of plausible deniability is absurd.

Perhaps Unilever could learn from other Hammond industries as to the proper manner in which to respond to such accidents. For example, when a leak occurred in an underground pipeline last August in South Hammond, BP Oil immediately took responsibility for the problem and has worked diligently to clean up the spill and to restore the affected neighborhood. At no time did BP suggest or blame anyone else for the leak. BP’s actions have earned respect from the City and residents alike. Instead of acting in a responsible manner like BP, Unilever is now seeking a foil for their mistakes by blaming the City and the Hammond Sanitary District for the backup.

Robertsdale residents have long tolerated frequent odors, noise and disruptions produced by the plant. Instead of being cognizant of the disparate impact that the company has on local residents, Unilever is now suggesting that dumping more than 100,000 lbs of grease and fat down city sewers is nothing out of the ordinary. Every homeowner knows that pouring grease and fat down the drain will cause backups and blockages. It is unconscionable to suggest that Unilever representatives failed to realize the impact of dumping massive amounts of such waste into City sewers.

As Mayor, I cannot accept Mr. Teike’s errant comments. Instead, I hope that Unilever corporate executives will review Mr. Tieke’s statements and accept responsibility for their action. I call on Unilever to consider the needs of local residents who have been unfairly inconvenienced by the Company’s actions over their own concerns for protection against possible litigation.

I look forward to a constructive dialogue with the Company on how to find permanent solutions to the problem so that such an unfortunate event never occurs again.

For questions in regard to this statement, please contact Rick Calinski, Chief of Staff at 219 853-6301.

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