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Lightfoot must release report on Little Village demolition dust incident, Ald. Rodriguez says

Rodriguez said residents have a right to know whether there was negligence related to the demolition of the Crawford coal plant chimney in April 2020.

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

A West Side City Council member is asking Mayor Lori Lightfoot to “expeditiously” release a report from the city’s watchdog that investigated a botched demolition in April 2020 that blanketed Little Village in a thick dust cloud.

“I stand with community members today to continue to ask for this report to be released so we can understand more thoroughly the circumstances leading up to this event and if there was negligence on behalf of the city departments or workers in this process,” Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) said during an online news conference Wednesday.

Rodriguez noted that the report, which is being reviewed by the Lightfoot administration, recommended that three city officials be disciplined, including one possible firing. The city has until the end of this month or early December to respond to the Chicago Office of Inspector General, Rodriguez said in an interview, adding that the report should be made public as soon as possible.

“This is something people have been waiting over 18 months for,” Rodriguez said.

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson, in his final public report as the city’s watchdog, revealed last month that his office wrapped up an investigation of the debacle, which coated the West Side community on Easter weekend of last year after an almost 400-foot smokestack at the former Crawford power plant came crashing down as part of the plant’s demolition.

The city is required to respond to the inspector general’s office about the recommendations, though it does not have to make the report public. Once the city has responded, the inspector general usually summarizes the investigation in a quarterly report. The next report from the office is not expected out until the middle of January.

Last month, Rodriguez sent Lightfoot a letter, co-signed by four other Chicago-area elected officials, making similar demands. U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, state Sen. Celina Villanueva, state Rep. Edgar Gonzalez and Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya also signed the letter asking for the report to be released “as soon as possible to maintain an honorable level of accountability and transparency we have promised our constituents.”

On Wednesday, Rodriguez said “my constituents and my neighbors deserve accountable and transparent government” and called the implosion a “terrible incident.”

Several community groups, including Little Village Environmental Justice Organization are calling for environmental monitoring of air and soil in the community and demanded that Lightfoot both discipline officials and apologize for the 2020 incident.

“We are here to demand Mayor Lightfoot hold those responsible for their negligence and dangerous incompetence,” Kim Wasserman, executive director of LVEJO, said during the news conference.

Lightfoot spokesman Cesar Rodriguez said the city will respond to the inspector general’s office by the end of the month but declined to say whether the full report will be made public.

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