Judge to rule next month on bid to stop General Iron permit

Lawyers are asked in a federal civil rights case if a city agreement showed discriminatory practices.

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Marie Collins-Wright, a resident of South Deering, attends a protest in November demanding Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot deny a permit that will allow a renamed General Iron operate on the Southeast Side.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A federal judge said that she expects to make a decision by early April on whether to stop the city from issuing a permit to allow the relocated General Iron scrap metal-shredding business open on the Southeast Side.

Two residents and a pastor are suing the city alleging that their civil rights were violated when the city helped relocate the source of pollution, a car and metal-shredding operation, from mostly white, affluent Lincoln Park to a low-income community of color on the Southeast Side. The business is waiting to receive a final operating permit from the city, which the lawsuit is trying to stop through a restraining order.

In a hearing Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Rowland focused several questions on a written agreement in 2019 between the city and General Iron’s owner Reserve Management Group, which established a timeline for the metal-shredding operation to move from Lincoln Park and reopen on the South Side.

After declaring the matter “a really important issue,” Rowland asked lawyers for the residents how the two-page document explicitly showed a discriminatory practice.

Christopher Carmichael, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the agreement doesn’t mention the racial differences between the North Side and South Side locations in question. But he said the document itself was “unusual” and fit into a pattern that showed the city wanted General Iron moved out of a redeveloping Lincoln Park.

Carmichael also noted a city air-quality report released last summer that showed the Southeast Side is one of the most environmentally burdened areas of Chicago.

“The city’s own air quality report is pretty damning,” Carmichael said.

Rowland said the city’s findings were “distressing” but said public health officials should separately address the issue of cumulative pollution.

Referencing the accusations of discriminatory practices, Rowland said: “I can only act if it’s established someone acted with actual animus.”

City lawyers said if a permit is granted, the South Side operation would have more stringent anti-pollution requirements than those for the Lincoln Park location under new rules put in place last year.

David Chizewer, a lawyer for RMG, denied that the city had a hand in helping the operation move to the Southeast Side. “The city had absolutely nothing to do with the location,” Chizewer said at the hearing.

RMG is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in October, is one of two federal complaints alleging residents’ civil rights were violated as a result of the proposed business relocation as well as Chicago’s longstanding zoning and land-use practices.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Justice Department are investigating the General Iron move in a case that is separate from the federal court lawsuit.

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

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