Mayor, city officials furious over demolition in Little Village

“What happened yesterday was utterly unacceptable and the city of Chicago will never hesitate to enforce its environmental safety regulations to the fullest extent possible when encountering violations like these, big or small,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Sunday.

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A person walks their bicycle through a dust cloud descending on the Little Village neighborhood Saturday after an industrial smokestack was imploded.

Mayor Lightfoot was joined by city officials at a press conference April 12, 2020, in Little Village to express their frustrations with the handling of a demolition that sent dust through the Southwest Side neighborhood on Saturday.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) and other city officials Sunday to express their frustration with Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ handling of Saturday’s implosion of a smokestack at the former Crawford Power Generating Station in Little Village.

“My team has already begun the process of working with the Little Village community to remediate the situation, including conducting a thorough review of what took place and strengthening our protocols to ensure incidents like this never happen again,” Lightfoot said.

On Saturday morning, during the latest stage of the Crawford Power Generating Station demolition, an implosion sent clouds of dust particles cascading through the Southwest Side neighborhood.

Once she was made aware of what happen, the mayor said she took several actions to “remediate the impact of Saturday’s event” and prevent similar events in the future, including issuing a stop-work order, initiating investigations into the city’s regulatory approval process and ordering Hilco to conduct a full clean-up and removal of dust in the surrounding neighborhood.

“The fear and anxiety that residents feel about COVID-19 have only been exacerbated with this situation,” Rodriguez said.

Before Saturday’s demolition, the alderman said Hilco told him it would make sure no dust would leave the site and said it would mail nearby residents notice of the demolition ahead of time; it did not, he said.

“At this point, I wish I had communicated it to residents, and I did not. And for that I am very sorry,” Rodriguez said.

While Hilco did receive the proper permitting to conduct the implosion, the promised precautions taken by the company were not enough to contain the spread of dust, the mayor said.

“They were supposed to have huge water cannons on site to spray down the smoke stack before, during and after,” Lightfoot said. “The videos I’ve seen don’t suggest that there were any of these high-powered water cannons on site that would contain the dust.”

Hilco has been issued a citation from the city that will result in a fine, and the Chicago Department of Public Health will be providing residents in the immediate area with masks.

“Our health investigators were on the scene to monitor an approved procedure, for which we were assured the impact to the community would be minimal,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner.

While the incident is under review, the Chicago Department of Buildings has put a stop to all non-emergency demolitions throughout the city for the rest of the week, pending a review of standard procedures for the permitting and monitoring of the implosion process.

“What happened yesterday was utterly unacceptable, and the city of Chicago will never hesitate to enforce its environmental safety regulations to the fullest extent possible when encountering violations like these, big or small,” Lightfoot said.

In a statement issued late Sunday afternoon, Hilco Redevelopment Partners CEO Robert Perez said, “We are working cooperatively with the City of Chicago to review yesterday’s demolition event undertaken by our contractor. We are sensitive to the concerns of the community, and we will continue to work in full cooperation.”

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) is among a group of aldermen who in an email statement Sunday called for a probe of the incident by the city’s Inspector General. “The main job of the government during this pandemic is to protect the health of our communities and it failed,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “People of color continue to be at risk of illness and death and that is unconscionable.”

The other aldermen seeking the investigation are Ald. Daniel LaSpata (1st), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), according to a statement from Sigcho-Lopez’s office.

Community leaders are demanding answers too.

“This tragic event was entirely avoidable,” said Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) Executive Director Kim Wasserman in the email statement. “It is crucial to investigate how and why this implosion was allowed to move forward by City authorities. We need an investigation and accountability, and we need it now,” Wasserman said.

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