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Illinois attorney general sues Trump Tower over releasing water into river

Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Trump International Hotel and Tower has run afoul of federal environmental laws, potentially harming fish and other aquatic life in the Chicago River, according to a lawsuit filed by the state’s highest-ranking attorney.

The suit claims that, every day, the owners of the building suck about 20 million gallons of water out of the Chicago River and release the same amount back into it at a higher temperature. The water is used to cool heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in the building, which sits along the river just east of Wabash Avenue.

“Trump Tower continues to take millions of gallons of water from the Chicago River every day without a permit and without any regard to how it may be impacting the river’s ecosystem,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. “I filed my lawsuit to make sure Trump Tower cannot continue violating the law.”

Though the building’s owners had a permit for the water discharge, it expired at the end of August 2017, according to the lawsuit filed this week in Cook County Circuit Court. The owners applied to renew the permit, but not until 82 days after the application was due. They were supposed to apply about three months before the permit’s expiration date, the suit states.

Madigan wants the court to impose a $10,000-a-day fine while the building remains in violation of regulations.

The attorney general’s office also alleges the building owners failed to complete and submit required environmental impact study results to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in 2013.

To maintain a permit, Trump Tower and other riverfront buildings are supposed to commission the studies to confirm how much water each building takes in, and how many fish and shellfish are being trapped by intake structures, according to the suit.

Such systems can pull in “large volumes” of fish and other aquatic creatures, according to Madigan, and they can also get caught against intake screens.

Trump Tower officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Chicago Tribune story from earlier this year, citing state records, noted that of the nearly one dozen high-rise buildings that draw their cooling water from the river, only Trump Tower had failed to document that it followed state rules governing protection of the river’s fish.

The environmental group, Friends of the Chicago River, has previously threatened to sue Trump Tower over the alleged violations.

“Friends of the Chicago River trusts that the AG’s office will secure a good result with their suit and will hold the Trump International Hotel & Tower accountable. We look forward to working them to assure an outcome that addresses the permit violations, protects additional aquatic life from harm, and makes the river healthier for fish,” the organization’s executive director, Margaret Frisbie, said in a statement Tuesday.

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