Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza is asking that the city delay issuing a permit to the relocated General Iron metal-shredding operation on the Southeast Side while a federal civil rights investigation is being conducted.
Garza’s announcement Wednesday comes seven days into a hunger strike initially staged by several activists, which has grown to at least six people. The protesters have asked the city to deny issuing an operating permit to a new facility at East 116th Street along the Calumet River because they say it will bring more air pollution to an already overburdened community.
“I commend these people,” Garza said in an interview. “They feel like they’re not being heard. No one should have to go on a hunger strike to get people to listen. That’s the bottom line. This has gotten out of control.”
In a statement, Southeast Side activists called on Garza, whose 10th Ward will house the operation renamed Southside Recycling, to go a step farther and ask the city to deny the permit.
Garza is actually named in a federal complaint alleging that the civil rights of residents were violated when the city agreed to help General Iron’s owner move from Lincoln Park to the Southeast Side. That move will help make way for the multibillion-dollar housing and retail development known as Lincoln Yards.
The city’s role in the move from mostly white, affluent Lincoln Park to Latino-majority East Side and larger majority-black South Side is at the heart of the federal inquiry, which also looks at Chicago’s long-held zoning and land-use policies.
Garza said she finds it “infuriating” that she’s part of the federal inquiry, which is being conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Justice Department, though she added: “I think an investigation should be complete before a permit is issued.”
In a public statement Wednesday, she noted that as alderwoman, “I strongly request a delay in issuing any permit” and noted “there are questions about the rezoning” of the North Side location where General Iron operated for decades.
Garza’s position puts pressure on Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The city has said it will conduct a thorough review of the permit and will apply new anti-pollution rules to mitigate the environmental impact for an industrial area that has poor air quality. Community activists have said they don’t want the business at all, and the move also spurred a federal lawsuit separate from the HUD inquiry. Meanwhile, owner Reserve Management Group is far along in building the facility.
Under a 2019 agreement with the city, RMG said it will complete construction and be ready to operate by the end of March. The old General Iron site in Lincoln Park stopped accepting cars, appliances and other scrap metal for shredding and recycling at the end of last year.
City officials and an RMG spokesman declined to comment.
Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.