Little Village activists met Thursday to deliver a list of demands after a confidential inspector general’s report was recently publicized on the botched Hilco smokestack demolition.
According to the report, city officials acted with “willful bureaucratic negligence” when allowing Hilco Redevelopment Partners to implode the smokestack at the old Crawford coal-fired power plant in April 2020. A dust storm enveloped Little Village.
“This report confirms what our communities have known to be true — that this administration and Hilco cannot be trusted,” said Kim Wasserman, the executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization at a Thursday morning news conference.
The inspector general’s office completed the report in September 2021, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration refused calls from the community, a City Council resolution and then-Inspector General Joe Ferguson to make the report public. New outlets obtained the report and published it earlier this month.
[ Joe Ferguson: Chicago needs to clear the air in Little Village over the Hilco implosion ]
Wasserman, joined by members of other environmental groups, outlined residents’ demands of the city and state at the morning conference. Activists later delivered those demands in writing to the office of Ald. Michael Rodriguez, 22nd, whose ward includes Little Village. Rodriguez did not comment publicly, but activists who delivered the letter summarized his responses outside his office.
Among the demands was a call for Rodriguez to translate the report into Spanish and publish it on the 22nd Ward website so residents of the predominantly Spanish-speaking Little Village community can access it. Rodriguez said he cannot do so until the report is officially released, but he will translate the report summary released in January 2022. He did not give a time frame for when it will be posted.
Community members want a meeting with Rodriguez, the city Department of Public Health, Department of Buildings, and Chicago Fire Department where they can ask questions about the dust storm, subsequent policy changes and the ongoing Hilco Development project at 3307 S. Lawndale Ave., Wasserman said.
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In addition, Wasserman demanded soil sampling, a city ban on all methods of implosion and pollution reviews that factor cumulative impact. She said the community wants the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to expand its definition of “environmental justice” to include more community participation.
Rodriguez agreed to meet with residents and expressed interest in working on comprehensive soil sampling.
[ Little Village residents protest opening of Target warehouse they say will create more pollution because of added diesel truck traffic ]
After the implosion was conducted in 2020, debris coated the neighborhood despite warnings up to seven months prior that the dust would be “unpreventable” and “almost cataclysmic,” according to the report, and “despite predictions by (Department of Public Health) senior staff that toppling the smokestack would be a ‘disaster.’ “
The inspector general’s office recommended disciplinary action for two Department of Building employees, but instead they received “remedial counseling.” The public health employee who faced potential firing under the inspector general’s recommendation instead received a written reprimand.
A 20-acre parking and storage yard for trucks is being built for the 1.3 million-square-foot Target warehouse that now stands at the site. Wasserman also called for work to be stopped on the site. Residents of Little Village, which houses more than two dozen industrial facilities that use medium or heavy duty diesel trucks, have long fought for cleaner air.
“We just want to breathe,” Wasserman said.
Karina Atkins is a freelancer.