Activists call on Lightfoot to block permit for Southeast Side metal-shredding plant

Reserve Management Group was cited by city last month after a roof collapse at a building on the proposed site.

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Marie Collins-Wright, a resident of South Deering, attends a protest demanding Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deny the final permit that will allow General Iron to move from Lincoln Park, a mostly white neighborhood, to the Southeast Side, which has a mostly Latino population, at 3325 W. Wrightwood Ave. near Lightfoot’s home in Logan Square, Saturday afternoon, Nov. 14, 2020.

Opponents say delays in reporting a roof collapse show Reserve Management Group cannot be trusted to observe environmental rules.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

A recycling company that wants to open a controversial metal recycling plant on Chicago’s Southeast Side should be denied city permits after failing to report the partial collapse of a building on the proposed site for the facility, activists said Wednesday.

In an online forum, activists called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deny a long-delayed permit for Reserve Management Group to operate a metal-shredding facility in an industrial campus along the Calumet River at 116th Street and Burley Ave.

The roof collapse on a vacant building at the site, which city inspectors said happened as far back as April but was not reported to the city until July, shows RMG cannot be trusted to observe environmental rules, said Lauren Bianchi, a social studies teacher at George Washington High School.

“We need to set a clear precedent that will hold companies with bad records to account for the harm they cause,” said Bianchi, who said the metal-shredding operation would be less than a mile from her school. “The process of ending and healing from environmental racism can start immediately. It can start when the city denies this permit.”

RMG’s proposed metal-shredding plant has stirred controversy since the company in 2019 purchased General Iron, which for more than a century had operated a scrap yard and shredding complex on an industrial site along the North Branch of the Chicago River in the upscale, predominantly white Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Residents there and in neighboring Bucktown had for years complained about pollution from General Iron, but RMG pledged to build the world’s cleanest metal shredding facility when it moved the operation to the Southeast Side site.

The city Department of Public Health and the Department of Buildings issued multiple code violations in connection with the roof collapse and still is investigating other buildings on the South Burley campus, spokesman James Scalzitti said in an email. Public Health officials have ordered that the company submit a survey on asbestos on the site, a dust mitigation plan and conduct air sampling before moving material at the site.

A spokesman for RMG said the company understood the “historical environmental burdens” of the Southeast Side, and that the recycling plant will be “protective of human health and the environment.”

“The groups protesting our permit application have repeatedly refused to acknowledge the high standards to which our facility was designed and constructed, the multiple reviews that have confirmed our compliance with those standards after accounting for the cumulative impact from surrounding sources, and the clear environmental benefits of metal recycling,” spokesman Randall Samborn said in a statement emailed to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The plan has been opposed by members of the Southeast Side Environmental Task Force, which hosted the online forum Wednesday. Lightfoot announced she was delaying review and approval of RMG’s permit as federal agencies including the EPA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Housing and Urban Development. RMG has sued the city over the delays.

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