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Hilco, contractors pay $370K to settle state suit for Little Village demolition dust cloud

The developer on the Crawford power plant site and two contractors will pay the money to a local health network. An activist calls the amount “chump change.”

Dust cloud from a smokestack implosion blankets Little Village on April 11, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Hilco Redevelopment Partners and two contractors will pay $370,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the state over air pollution violations after a botched demolition in Little Village blanketed the community in a thick plume of dirt and dust last spring.

Hilco, which is redeveloping the former Crawford Power Generation Station site on South Pulaski Road into a warehouse and distribution hub for Target, used explosives to implode an almost 400-foot smokestack Easter Weekend that fell over and created a massive dust cloud, caught on video, that coated nearby homes, cars and yards and provoked outrage among residents.

Beyond the demolition debacle, the warehouse development is also controversial because it is expected to bring hundreds of diesel trucks in and out of the area every day, creating more pollution in an industrial area that already suffers from poor air quality. Community activists fought for years to shut down the Crawford coal-fired power plant and are angry that the replacement for the site will be another big source of air pollution.

The company and a pair of contractors, MCM Management Corp and Controlled Demolition, will pay the money to Access Community Health Network as part of its deal with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. Access operates health centers and serves Little Village.

“They will provide funding to improve health outcomes in a community that has experienced decades of pollution,” Raoul said in a statement.

In May, Raoul said in his complaint that “particulate matter” in the demolition dust potentially posed serious health threats to the community and that residents “reported experiencing asthmatic responses and other respiratory distress, such as pain breathing.”

The dollar amount in the settlement is “chump change” to the companies, said Kim Wasserman, executive director of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, which helped shut down the Crawford plant and also opposes the warehouse project.

“It’s disappointing,” she said. “And it continues to show that industry is the priority when it comes to who is being protected.”

Hilco, which did not admit wrongdoing, will pay $250,000 of the amount and the contractors will each pay $60,000, according to the settlement document. Access will use the money to create the Little Village Health and Wellness Program.

Hilco Redevelopment, a unit of Hilco Global of Northbrook, also has to abide by its own dust-mitigation plans.

Hilco Global Executive Vice President Gary Epstein declined to comment.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.