Hilco authorized to clean debris left behind by April 11 smoke stack demolition

Lightfoot said she gave the go-ahead to Hilco and Heneghan Wrecking, the developer’s new demolition contractor, because, “I’m very worried about people who have been breaking into the site continuing to scale the fence in search of copper and other scrap. That’s just a recipe for disaster.”

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The old Crawford Coal Plant, located at 3501 South Pulaski Road, Monday, April 13, 2020.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

Hilco Redevelopment Partners got the go-ahead Tuesday to clean up debris left behind by its disastrous smokestack demolition—and secure buildings at the Little Village site—to prevent it from becoming what Mayor Lori Lightfoot called an “attractive nuisance” for scavengers.

“I’ve been out to the site again myself. It remains in a dangerous condition. The debris is really scattered throughout the southern end of the property. And because of the demolition work, remaining parts of the building are structurally unsound,” the mayor said.

“Because of the public safety hazard that this poses, we are allowing Hilco—with a new demolition contractor, Heneghan [Wrecking & Excavating]—to take steps to clean up that site of what I know from my lawyer training is called an `attractive nuisance.’ We don’t want the scrap to be attracting scavengers.”

Lightfoot noted that there have been “120-plus break-ins” on the site of the shuttered Crawford coal-fired power plant “over the life the property” even though there is “high fencing and 24-hour security” on the site.

She described the site as “incredibly dangerous” with “a lot of debris” and “remaining structures sagging” with a “lot of jagged pieces hanging off” those buildings. The authorization is for clean-up and securing buildings only. No further demolition is authorized, the mayor said.

“I’m very worried about people who have been breaking into the site continuing to scale the fence in search of copper and other scrap. That’s just a recipe for disaster,” she said.

Lightfoot also pushed back harder than ever against the notion that her decision to strip aldermen of their unbridled control over licensing and permitting in their wards on the day she took office had somehow set the stage for the April 11 demolition of a 95-year-old smokestack that enraged and endangered Little Village residents.

“Nothing about aldermanic prerogative changed a single word in the building code. The alderman—the previous one—had deep involvement with this project from the very beginning. That didn’t change. And it didn’t change under [current alderman] Mike Rodriguez,” the mayor said.

“The record is very clear that, really starting in early March, Mike Rodriguez had extensive contact, both with the developer and various city departments up until the night before. And he was onsite that day.”

Rodriguez has maintained that he was powerless to stop the April 11 demolition that caused a giant plume of dust to blanket the community, making it difficult to breathe during a coronavirus pandemic that does the same.

But, Lightfoot said, “It’s easy to say things, but the record of his engagement, and active engagement, is really quite clear.”

Rodriguez stood his ground.

“I inquired into whether it could be stopped twice…And I was told that they’ve got their permits and they’ve met the requirements to go through with their implosion,” the local alderman said.

“In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I definitely would have stopped it. But you have to rely on our experts in the Department of Buildings to guide us.”

Rodriguez said he wasn’t in the City Council before aldermen were stripped of their unbridled control over zoning and permitting in their wards. So he has no idea whether he would have had the power to stop the demolition without Lightfoot’s executive order.

“All I know is, right now, I did not have a say in the permit process. I did, however, inquire whether it was possible to stop the demolition,” Rodriguez said.

Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, has blamed Lightfoot and a “corrupt” permitting system that “perpetuates environmental racism” for the disastrous demolition.

She has demanded that City Hall force Hilco to vacate Little Village and rescind the $19.7 million city subsidy that was supposed to pave the way for the company to build a massive warehouse on the site.

On Tuesday, Lightfoot said she’s talked to a number of Little Village residents who remain supportive of the warehouse project even though the smokestack demolition was an “outrageous breach” of city ordinance and the public trust.

What about those who don’t want Hilco to have anything to do with the project—not even debris clean-up?

“Well, there’s a whole lot of reasons why that would be highly problematic,” the mayor said.

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