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City reschedules public meeting on health impact of proposed metal shredder on Southeast Side

Another meeting over the rebranded General Iron will be scheduled after complaints that officials aren’t doing enough to involve residents in its health analysis.

The opening of Reserve Management Group’s metal-shredding facility on the Southeast Side is held up by a broad environmental analysis being conducted by the city.
The opening of the fully built metal-shredding facility on the Southeast Side has been held up by a health and environmental analysis being conducted by the city.
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UPDATE: The city said Wednesday that it will hold the public meeting Dec. 9 after all. The meeting, at UAW Local 551 Hall, 13550 S. Torrence Ave., will be limited to 150 people and those with East Side, Hegewisch or South Deering addresses will receive priority for admission, according to a meeting registration. Photo identification, proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result will be required for entry.

A meeting planned for this week to discuss potential health impacts of a scrap metal-shredding operation on the Southeast Side was postponed amid residents’ criticism of the city’s evaluation.

City officials acknowledged in an email Tuesday that some people complained that residents weren’t part of the process and their input was not sought following an initial meeting Nov. 4 to discuss the health and environmental impacts of the proposed Southside Recycling at East 116th Street along the Calumet River.

“We heard from many of you that the first meeting did not create enough opportunity for this important dialogue to happen,” city health officials said in an email. “With your help, we are reimagining our next session. We want to make sure that we are well prepared for a productive and responsive engagement — one that is inclusive of the different perspectives community members bring to this decision-making process.”

The business, which shreds junked cars, appliances and other metal, is opposed by residents, community groups, environmental and health advocates and others who frame the fight as a civil rights battle.

Southside Recycling, the rebranded and rebuilt operation formerly known as General Iron, operated in Lincoln Park for decades. The relocation of a polluting business from white, wealthy North Side to the low-income Latino and Black Southeast Side is the subject of a federal fair housing investigation.

On Tuesday, the city said this Thursday’s meeting would be rescheduled to Dec. 9 and held at a Southeast Side site. That in-person event was to be limited to 150 residents. But within one hour, the city canceled that meeting citing a community scheduling conflict.

No new date had been set as of late Tuesday.

One advocate said the city would do well to better involve residents.

“The city continues to drop the ball when planning an engagement process that is rooted in equity,” said Olga Bautista, executive director of the community organization Southeast Environmental Task Force.

City officials have said a health impact analysis will be completed by early next year.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s health department will then weigh whether to issue an operating permit to Reserve Management Group, which bought General Iron in 2019 and built the new shredding operation along the Calumet.

Lightfoot suspended the permit review last May at the request of the top official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who expressed concerns about adding to the pollution of an already overburdened community.

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