Shortly after a group of protesters gathered outside her Logan Square neighborhood home Thursday night, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that another demolition at the site of a shuttered coal-fired plant in Little Village “will not move forward over the next several days.”
Earlier Thursday, Lightfoot’s administration gave the go-ahead for the demolition of a building at the site of the former Crawford power plant.
The move faced a swift rebuke from the local alderman and neighborhood activists and came just over a month after another demolition at the site sent a cloud of dust wafting through Little Village as the number of coronavirus cases throughout the city was climbing rapidly.
“The health and safety of Chicago’s residents remains the top priority of this Administration, and today I have heard the concerns of community members regarding the demolition of a small building on the former Crawford Generating Station site,” Lightfoot said in a statement Thursday night.
Earlier in the evening, a group of about 20 demonstrators gathered outside Lightfoot’s home to protest the city’s decision to allow another demolition. “Mayor Lightfoot lies, Little Village dies,” the crowd chanted repeatedly.
In reversing course, Lightfoot vowed to engage with the local community to discuss “the structurally dangerous condition of that small building” while noting that officials from the Department of Buildings have been at the site since April 11, when the last demolition took place.
Officials previously said the Department of Buildings “has determined that, in the interest of public safety, the turbine structure” on the site is “unsound” and “needs to be removed immediately” following a “lengthy evaluation and structural analysis” of remaining buildings on the site of the former power plant
“The contractor, Heneghan Wrecking, has submitted a dust mitigation plan for the removal work, which has undergone a thorough review by the IEPA and the Chicago Department of Public Health,” the Buildings Department said in a statement.
“City inspectors and a third-party environmental consultant will remain onsite to monitor the demolition activity, and the surrounding community will be provided with status updates on this portion of the demolition. The City will continue working with and updating the local community as the process moves forward.”
City Hall said “preliminary work” on the site began Thursday with the “bulk of the demolition work” scheduled “the coming days, carefully monitored by city inspectors who have been on site since April 11, 2020 and a third party consultant.”
Noting that community stakeholders were consulted, City Hall noted that the city’s Department of Public Health and the Il. Environmental Protection Agency have concluded there is “minimal risk” to area residents.
“The demolition will not take place by implosion, and there will be no more implosion in Chicago until a new, separate permitting process is established,” the city said.
Local Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) was not appeased.
“I’m against any demolition work at the site at this moment. ... With the COVID-19 epidemic, it’s very clear that compromised air quality can have a significant negative impact on public health,” Rodriguez said Thursday.
Rodriguez noted that Heneghan Wrecking is the demolition subcontractor hired by Hilco Redevelopment Partners after the April 11 demolition debacle.
“Hilco made promises last time around and didn’t come through on them. Who knows what can happen this time around?” Rodriguez said.
“I don’t think anybody should be working on the site. And there should be 24-hour security to make sure that nobody is accessing the site.”
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Health and Environmental Protection, said he, too, is concerned that “history is teed up to repeat itself” after, what he called the “disastrous” smokestack demolition in Little Village.
“We are fighting a respiratory pandemic. Our most vulnerable residents live in Little Village,” Cardenas said in a statement.
“It is apparent that the administration...did not learn from the disastrous smokestack demolition last month. Leadership’s failure to listen to and engage with residents on matters that can affect their quality of life is repugnant....I stand with the residents in Little Village, and my colleague Alderman Rodriguez calling for a cease and desist on the remaining demolition until the community is notified with adequate time to plan.”
Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, could not be reached for comment on the city’s decision to authorize yet another demolition on the site.
Wasserman 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 where it demolished the smokestack during the coronavirus pandemic.
On April 11, armed with a city demolition permit that Rodriguez claims he tried to stop, a now-fired Hilco subcontractor demolished a 95-year-old smokestack at the Crawford site without abiding by the safety measures it had promised to implement.
That caused a giant plume of dust to rain down on the community, making it difficult to breathe during a coronavirus pandemic that does the same. Homes, vehicles, streets and sidewalks were left filthy.
Lightfoot blamed Hilco, slapped the company with $68,000 in fines and vowed to overhaul a flawed city regulatory system that allowed it to happen.
Last month, Lightfoot authorized Hilco to clean up debris left behind by the smokestack demolition and secure buildings at the Little Village site to prevent it from becoming an “attractive nuisance” for scavengers.
At the time, the mayor 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.
“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 then.
Earlier this month, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul sued Hilco, MCM Management Corp. and Controlled Demolition Inc. for violating state pollution laws.