Little Village wants answers from city officials after report on Crawford plant implosion

A previously secret watchdog report accuses officials of being negligent and incompetent before the 2020 debacle that coated the community in dust.

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Little Village community residents rally outside Ald. Michael Rodriguez’s (22nd) office Thursday before delivering a letter demanding accountability from City Hall over for the botched Crawford plant implosion in 2020.

Little Village residents rally outside Ald. Michael Rodriguez’s (22nd) office Thursday before delivering a letter demanding accountability from City Hall over for the botched Crawford plant implosion in 2020.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Sun-Times

Little Village residents called on 22 Ward Ald. Michael Rodriguez Thursday to hold city officials accountable for the 2020 implosion debacle at the former Crawford coal power plant that left nearby homes covered in dust.

The demands from members of the Fuera Hilco Coalition follow a Chicago Sun-Times report last week about city officials’ reportedly flawed oversight of the implosion of an almost 400-foot smokestack that came crashing down and created a giant dust cloud that smothered the community.

According to a previously secret City Hall inspector general’s report, city officials were guilty of “negligence and incompetence” in failing to protect the community from a calamity that could have been avoided.

“You are responsible for representing our community’s best interests at City Hall and being accountable to your ward in return,” said the group’s letter, which was hand-delivered to Rodriguez’s ward office.

The report followed the botched demolition of the former Crawford coal plant, which was being removed to make way for a million-square-foot warehouse built by Hilco Redevelopment Partners.

The botched implosion of an almost 400-feet-high chimney at the former Crawford coal plant in Little Village in 2020 created a massive dust cloud that covered homes, yards and cars.

The botched implosion of an almost 400-foot chimney at the former Crawford coal plant in Little Village in 2020 created a massive dust cloud that covered homes, yards and cars.

Alejandro Reyes

The warehouse was completed in 2021 and is now leased to Target, which with Hilco wants to expand to a nearby piece of land for additional truck parking.

The group, which includes Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, also wants measures put in place to avoid another environmental fiasco like the one that occurred on Easter weekend almost three years ago.

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The coalition wants Rodriguez to translate the 94-page report into Spanish for the Latino-majority neighborhood.

“Some Little Village residents have yet to read the document, due to lack of translation,” the letter said. “Those who have read it are still grappling with the revelations in it and reliving the devastating impacts.”

The groups want a pause on a planned Hilco expansion near the Target distribution center, something Rodriguez said he would support.

The Fuera Hilco Coalition also wants a community meeting between city Health, Buildings and Fire department officials.

The group wants environmental soil sampling as well.

Rodriguez said he supports the demands and wants to work with the community.

“I agree 100%,” he said. “Everything they’re working on, I’m working on, too.”

Rodriguez said he can’t pause construction activity for a related Hilco project, but he said, “I can join the community in making that ask” of City Hall.

A Hilco official didn’t respond to a request for comment.

City Hall officials blamed the botched implosion on Hilco and have added new rules for such demolitions.

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Little Village community members march toward Ald. Michael Rodriguez’s (22nd) office to deliver a letter demanding accountability from the city for the botched Crawford plant implosion.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

It was the second time this week that Rodriguez was criticized for his handling of the Hilco incident.

On Tuesday, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) took part in a separate event outside Rodriguez’s office, blasting his colleague’s responses to the implosion and also accusing him of not alerting neighbors to the April 2020 implosion plan. He was joined by Kristian Armendariz, who is challenging Rodriguez in Tuesday’s election.

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization also joined other environmental justice organizations on Thursday in calling on City Hall to step up enforcement of pollution violations.

“We hear and understand community concerns regarding industrial burdens and what improvements and accountability can look like in the future,” City Hall officials said in a statement, adding that they are performing an assessment of cumulative pollution burdens. “This assessment will be instrumental in informing land use, permitting and other decisions.”

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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