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Southeast Side residents sue city again over General Iron permit

Three residents filed a complaint in state court to stop a city permit after earlier failing to make their case before a federal judge.

An activist protests the relocation of General Iron to the Southeast Side at a demonstration in March,
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A group of Southeast Side residents are trying again in court to stop a car-shredding operation from opening, claiming the business would be a public nuisance.

The residents are suing the city and the company that acquired the Lincoln Park business General Iron in 2019, saying they will be subject to additional air pollution that threatens their health. They seek a permanent injunction that stops the city from issuing a final permit needed to operate the relocated and rebranded metal-shredding business at East 116th Street along the Calumet River.

“The residents in the surrounding vicinity, including the plaintiffs, have a common right to be free from conduct and conditions that create a significant risk to the public health, welfare and safety,” the three plaintiffs said in their suit filed Thursday in Circuit Court of Cook County.

The Rev. Richard Martinez, Jocelyn Rangel and Roni-Nicole Facen previously filed a civil rights complaint in federal court, which was withdrawn after a judge refused to issue an injunction.

The permit that would allow an operation known as Southside Recycling to operate on the Southeast Side is on hold after Mayor Lori Lightfoot halted the process at the request of Michael Regan, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Regan asked the mayor to conduct area air pollution testing before deciding on the permit.

That delay prompted Southside Recycling’s owner Reserve Management Group to file suit against the city first in federal court and, more recently, in state court, claiming that it had an agreement with the city that set a process for getting a permit. That agreement, signed by Lightfoot’s Administration in September 2019, dictated that RMG cease operating at the Lincoln Park facility at the end of 2020. RMG has built an $80 million shredding operation on the Southeast Side that is awaiting a final city permit to operate.

The Martinez group argues in their suit that the agreement between the city and the company denied them their rights to due process under the Illinois Constitution. They add that the city and company knew the Southeast Side “is already disproportionately burdened by existing harmful air pollution.”

Both the city and RMG previously denied similar accusations. An RMG spokesman said the company hasn’t seen the lawsuit. City officials also declined to comment, saying in a statement “the Department of Law will review the lawsuit upon service.”

Separately, federal housing officials are investigating whether the city under Lightfoot and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel violated the civil rights of residents by facilitating the move of a polluting industrial operation from mostly white wealthy Lincoln Park to the Latino-majority community on the Southeast Side.

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