Finkl Steel withdraws plans to add more furnaces to Southeast Side facility

Community members gather at Olive-Harvey College for a listening session with the Illinois EPA to voice their concerns with Finkl’s plan, and other area pollution issues. Finkl executives were a no-show.

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An aerial view of the Finkl Steel location at 1355 E. 93rd St. on Chicago’s South Side, Wednesday afternoon, April 12, 2023. | Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

An aerial view of the Finkl Steel plant at 1355 E. 93rd Street in Burnside. The company had submitted plans to add three more furnaces, but the plans were later withdrawn.

Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Anita Perry said the shudders and smells from the Finkl Steel factory have been a problem for her since the company moved in down the street from her home in Burnside.

She wasn’t happy when she found out that Finkl had submitted an application to the Illinois EPA to add three more furnaces at its facility, at 1355 E. 93rd St. Perry was worried that it would create more health and wellness concerns.

The Finkl Steel sign at the entrance to their 1355 E. 93rd St. location on Chicago’s South Side, Wednesday afternoon, April 12, 2023. | Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Finkl Steel was originally located in Lincoln Park but moved to the South Side in 2014. Residents have expressed concern about pollution and noise at the plant.

Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

“I can’t imagine that something else is going to add to that,” said Perry, 69.

On Wednesday, Perry joined several residents at Olive-Harvey College for a listening session with the Illinois EPA to voice concerns about Finkl’s plan and other pollution issues in the city.

The meeting was originally slated as a discussion of Finkl’s application, which was submitted last July, and representatives from the company were set to be in attendance.

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But the company withdrew its application Monday, according to the Illinois EPA and Alliance of the Southeast, an activist organization that helped bring about the meeting and has been fighting for environmental justice in the area.

Finkl didn’t provide an explanation for the withdrawal. The company didn’t respond to repeated attempts for comment.

Amalia NietoGomez, executive director of ASE, was surprised that Finkl withdrew its application but called the move a victory. She said her organization would be ready to mobilize again if the furnace proposal is reintroduced.

“There’s been issues with the neighbors in its current form,” NietoGomez said, “So the fact that they were trying to expand out to have three more furnaces is of concern because we’re worried about the air pollution.”

The application states that the three furnaces would be natural-gas fired. The company told the EPA in its application that the additions would not require a revise of its emissions cap.

But Marie Collins-Wright, who has lived in the area for nearly four decades, said she was skeptical about the company’s claim that the new furnaces would not affect emissions.

“You’re going to put people in proximity with that stuff, and it’s dangerous,” Collins-Wright said. “Not just one furnace, not two, but three?”

Collins-Wright said she thinks the company withdrew the application because it didn’t want to face the community. “I think they’re just mad because we organized the meeting and they’re not ready to answer any questions,” she said.

Collins-Wright cited an explosion at the steel plant in 2019 that sent flaming debris flying into the neighborhood as proof that the steel company is creating problems for residents.

Finkl was originally located in Lincoln Park but moved to the South Side in 2014.

“I was there before Finkl came,” Perry said, adding that even though Finkl doesn’t plan to add furnaces it is still creating problems for her. “I bought my home because the area was quiet. It is nerve-racking. Sometimes in the middle of the night I can’t sleep because they’re forging. And I know in the long run it’s destroying something.”

Residents and activists on the Southeast Side have been fighting for better air quality for years. The proposed move of General Iron from its longtime home in Lincoln Park to the Southeast Side — first announced in 2018 — created a firestorm of protest from community organizations and environmental groups.

An aerial view of the Finkl Steel location at 1355 E. 93rd St. on Chicago’s South Side, Wednesday afternoon, April 12, 2023. | Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Finkl Steel hasn’t given a reason for withdrawing its plans to add three furnaces.

Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration blocked the car shredding facility, renamed SouthSide Recycling, from opening a year ago amid community protests. Lightfoot-appointed Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady cited public health concerns around adding an additional polluter to the area for the decision.

“We’ve had so many toxic developments being proposed for the Southeast Side and overburdened communities throughout the city,” NietoGomez said.

Contributing: Brett Chase

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