Judge orders relocated General Iron on Southeast Side to remain closed

Southside Recycling, the rebranded metal-shredding operation, sparked a civil rights complaint and an investigation by HUD.

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Samuel Corona (derecha), activista de Alliance of the Southeast (Alianza del Sureste), grita “¡Alto a General Iron!” en una concentración frente al Ayuntamiento en junio. | Pat Nabong/Archivos Sun-Times

Samuel Corona (right), an activist with the Alliance of the Southeast, chants, “Stop General Iron!” at a rally outside City Hall in June.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

The relocated General Iron metal-shredding operation on the Southeast Side will remain closed for the time being, a judge ruled Thursday.

Cook County Circuit Judge Allen Walker rejected a request by the owner of the operation at East 116th Street by the Calumet River to open for business after former Mayor Lori Lightfoot blocked it last year.

Lightfoot, who initially aided the business’ relocation from Lincoln Park, ultimately denied the permit after a flurry of protests from Southeast Side residents who said they couldn’t take any more air pollution. The decision to block the business followed a monthslong health impact assessment of the Southeast Side that City Hall cited in rejecting the permit.

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Community organizers even filed a federal civil rights complaint against the city over the matter leading to findings that are forcing the city to change its planning and land-use practices.

On Thursday, they praised the judge’s decision.

“This gives us some relief right now,” said Oscar Sanchez, co-executive director of the community organization Southeast Environmental Task Force. “We didn’t know what the outcome would be but our campaign was ready to mobilize.”

In June, a city administrative hearings judge ruled that Lightfoot and her public health department didn’t follow rules when it denied the permit for the operation, which is now rebranded Southside Recycling.

The next month, the business’ owner asked Walker to order the city to allow the shredding site to open, a request Mayor Brandon Johnson is fighting as well as the administrative hearings ruling.

Walker said in court Thursday that the administrative hearings judge did not specifically order the city to issue the business a permit.

“It doesn’t say that, correct?” Walker asked a lawyer for the business. “You folks had or could’ve had that language be included in the order.”

Bradley Wilson, a lawyer for the city, called the Southside Recycling argument an “unsupported reading” of the decision made by the administrative hearings court.

Wilson and other city lawyers will continue to fight the ruling made by that administrative hearings court, saying that Lightfoot and her health department had every right to deny the metal shredder’s permit.

The business’ owner, after signing an agreement with Lightfoot in 2019, built a new scrap metal operation at the East Side location.

The operation was never allowed to open, though it’s fully built. General Iron, which operated on the North Branch of the Chicago River for decades, has been closed and dismantled. The land was expected to be sold for redevelopment as part of an ambitious real estate plan known as Lincoln Yards.

The delay in the process and the blocked permit have been the subject of multiple lawsuits, though the only win for Southside Recycling so far has been in the administrative hearings. Another lawsuit in circuit court seeks damages from the city for the costs of building the shredding facility as well as lost revenue.

That proposed move from mostly white and affluent Lincoln Park to a Latino community surrounded by Black neighborhoods on the Southeast Side was the focus of a federal civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that concluded the city has discriminatory planning and land-use practices and policies.

Johnson has pledged to reform city policies under a binding agreement with the feds and recently announced a plan to introduce an environmental protection ordinance later this year.

The Southeast Side fight has been one of the most high-profile pollution concerns, but Sanchez said it has also helped unify community groups across the city, who are pushing Johnson to make good on his environmental promises.

“This is one of the many fights in the city of Chicago,” Sanchez said.

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