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General Iron owners say they’ve been demonized, deny environmental racism charge in new court filing

Southside Recycling says claims from activists and residents are false and it plans to open “the most environmentally conscious recycling facility in the country.”

General Iron plans to leave its current location at 1909 N. Clifton in Lincoln Park to move to the Southeast Side.
The General Iron facility at 1909 N. Clifton in Lincoln Park
Sun-Times file

In a new court filing, owners of a scrap metal-shredder formerly known as General Iron denied charges their planned move to the Southeast Side amounts to environmental racism and claimed the new facility will be “the most environmentally conscious recycling facility in the country.”

The motion, filed by new owners Southside Recycling earlier this week, was made in a federal lawsuit alleging the city is violating residents’ civil rights by allowing the business to relocate from wealthy, mostly white Lincoln Park to an already polluted Southeast Side community home to mostly people of color. The lawsuit was filed in an attempt to prevent the city from issuing the final operating permit to open the new $80 million facility.

Southside Recycling, which is not listed as a defendant, filed the motion as an “amicus party.” The filing says that plaintiffs in the suit, two residents and a pastor, have failed to provide evidence that the proposed move would worsen the air quality on the Southeast Side, and urges the court to come to a quick decision.

It was written partially in response to a letter submitted by the plaintiffs in the case and signed by hundreds of individuals and more than 70 health care, social justice, urban planning and other groups alleging that the move amounts to environmental racism. The motion writes off these claims, saying “these conclusions are offered without a shred of data or science to explain how health would be threatened.”

“Instead, a well-organized and emotionally charged opposition has relied on the politically appealing, yet demonstrably false, assumption that if the facility has stopped operating on the North Side, it must be harmful for the South Side,” the motion, written by attorney David Chizewer, states.

The motion says Southside Recycling’s expansion to a 175-acre plot makes it “far superior from an environmental and operational standpoint” to the 10-acre plot in Lincoln Park, and claims that its new pollution control systems will make it “the most environmentally conscious recycling facility in the country” with an ample buffer zone.

“It can be difficult to question such emotional outcry from an overburdened community. But in this particular case, the facts must prevail over Plaintiffs’ symbolic demonizing of Southside Recycling,” the motion states.

“A quick look at the permit issued by the Illinois EPA shows that General Iron’s southeast side location can emit 16 tons of pollution,” Victor Henderson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “That is more than before and worse. General Iron may not be able to see the facts through their pollution, but they are clear to us: It operating on the southeast side makes the air worse and is textbook environmental racism.”

A decision on the lawsuit, which names the City of Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady as defendants, is expected sometime in April.

Southside Recycling’s motion is the latest development in a saga which has included numerous protests, a month-long hunger strike from residents protesting the relocation and a federal civil rights investigation separate from the lawsuit.

“Our commitment moving forward will be the same as when we started, to keep working towards policy and representation to improve the environment, for everyone, but especially for Black and Brown communities throughout the city of Chicago that have faced the burden of industrial polluters,” said Yesenia Chavez, a 26-year-old Southeast Side resident, at the end of the hunger strike.

Contributing: Brett Chase