St. Mary’s River near Gas House Restaurant set for another environmental clean up

The Gas House restaurant really did used to be a gas house -- and that continues to cause environmental headaches. (Photo courtesy NIPSCO)

NIPSCO will soon begin to cleaning up remnants of a long-closed gas plant along the St. Mary’s River in downtown Fort Wayne — again.

Beginning next month, contractors hired by the utility will spend up to four months removing contaminants left by the operation of a coal-gas plant that operated in the current Hall’s Gas House restaurant building at 305 E. Superior St. from the 1850s until 1948. The project will include the dredging the top two feet of river sediment over a 400-foot section, with the dredged material transported to the Parks and Recreation Department’s Old Fort property.

Once dredging is complete, workers will install a cap consisting of clay and a mat that is designed to capture and isolate any tarry material that has seeped from the riverbank. Tests tests performed in 2008-2018 indicate the mat can reduce the sheen and odors that can be experienced while on the river. The mat will be topped with gravel and rip-rap to protect it from river flow. Improvements will also be made to a combined sewer outfall and the surrounding riverbank to prevent migration of any potential tarry seepage and to halt erosion on the bank.

While the work is in progress, Historic Fort Wayne will be accessible, and work will be halted for its scheduled events. The Rivergreenway will have posted detours, the intersection of Duck and Barr streets will be closed from Oct. 1 to Dec.; and river channel access will be closed from Sept. 24 to Dec. 24.

The previous manufactured gas plant, or MGP, produced “town gas” by heating coal, coke, and/or oil in a closed vessel. The gas was captured and cleaned of impurities before being stored in large round structures known as gas holders. Town gas was distributed first for lighting streets, homes and businesses, and then for heating and cooking. But the process typically created byproducts such as coal tar, a dense, oily liquid.

Clean up of the surrounding area dates back to at least 2007, when The News-Sentinel reported the Gas House would close for three months during removal of an estimated 2.4 million gallons of coal tar. Other clean ups have followed since because, as NIPSCO spokesman Larry Graham said at the time, “It’s impossible to get it all.”