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City should quickly release IG report on botched smokestack implosion in Little Village

The report should be released as soon as possible after the Lightfoot administration has reviewed it and decided its course of action — but definitely before the inspector general’s quarterly report next January.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Eighteen months is long enough for Little Village to wait for the details on a botched implosion at a former coal plant in 2020 that blanketed the community in a cloud of dust.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), said it, clearly and directly, in an online news conference this week: That “if there was negligence on behalf of the city departments or workers,” the people of Little Village deserve to know.

They do, and quickly. So Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration should move as soon as possible to release the findings of the Chicago Office of Inspector General’s report on its investigation of the incident.

The debacle at the old Crawford Generating Station by Hilco Redevelopment Partners in April 2020 left a literal cloud hanging over Little Village and a layer of dust settling on the surrounding neighborhoods when Hilco imploded the former coal plant’s smokestack.

Residents in the predominantly Latino community — already disproportionately burdened by the heightened threat of COVID-19, which can cause potentially life-threatening respiratory problems — have been waiting for details, and justice, since then.

The Chicago OIG submitted findings last month from its investigation, which Lightfoot’s administration must consider and respond to. The city may release the report publicly by the end of this month — or not.

If not, residents will have to wait until the inspector general’s quarterly summary report in mid-January.

We see no reason why the report should not be released as soon as possible after the Lightfoot administration has reviewed it and decided its course of action.

The people in Little Village, who were buried in dust on a weekend just as the pandemic was worsening, deserve to know why this epic environmental failure happened, and exactly who should be held accountable for it.

The inspector general’s report recommended potential “discharge” for at least one city official and punishment for at least two others. Allowing the details to remain secret creates yet another smokescreen for residents who rightly demanded accountability from City Hall over the incident.

A rallying cry for urgency was posted last month on the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization’s Facebook page, saying “an additional 30/60 days to review [the] report is UNACCEPTABLE.”

So is another two months to release it.

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