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Though Lightfoot halted demolition at shuttered Little Village coal plant, activists fear it’s still imminent

“People were not getting notice of the demolition that was going to occur,” said activist Raul Montes. “There’s no transparency and we just feel that we want justice for this. We’ve gone through enough already”

Little Village resident and cancer patient Kenneth Klein, activist Raul Montes Jr. and Blue Island Mayor Domingo Vargas hold a news conference at the site of the shuttered Crawford coal plant in Little Village on May 17, 2020.

Days after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that another demolition at a shuttered coal-fired plant in Little Village would temporarily be halted, a group of community activists on Sunday pushed to prevent the building from coming down “until COVID-19 passes.”

Lightfoot’s administration gave the go-ahead Thursday to demolish a “turbine structure” at the site of the former Crawford power plant. But when protesters showed up at Lightfoot’s Logan Square home that night, she swiftly called off the demolition and said it “will not move forward for the next several days.”

However, activist Raul Montes Jr. fears the demolition is still imminent.

Montes and Blue Island Mayor Domingo Vargas led a news conference Sunday near the site and pushed for a moratorium on any demolitions at the site until October. They were joined by Kenneth Klein, a Little Village resident who believes he developed lung cancer and COPD from living near the plant.

“We want transparency,” Montes told the Chicago Sun-Times. “People were not getting notice of the demolition that was going to occur. There’s no transparency, and we just feel that we want justice for this. We’ve gone through enough already”

The push for added transparency comes after an April 11 smokestack implosion at the site sent a cloud of dust billowing through Little Village. Local Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) has also voiced his opposition to any immediate demolition work and has called for work crews to leave the site.

Montes worries the dust from the blast exacerbated the conditions of individuals like Klein and others with respiratory illnesses, who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19.

In the wake of the debacle in April, Lightfoot blamed Hilco Redevelopment Partners, slapped the firm with $68,000 in fines and vowed to overhaul a flawed city regulatory system that allowed it to happen. She also ordered a six-month moratorium on implosions at the site — a ban that wouldn’t have affected the recently delayed demolition.

Nevertheless, Montes believes the city’s actions were nothing more than “a slap on the wrist to a company that has a lot of money.” Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has sued Hilco, MCM Management Corp. and Controlled Demolition Inc. for violating state pollution laws.

In reversing course last week, Lightfoot vowed to engage with the local community to discuss “the structurally dangerous condition of that small building.” But as far as Montes can tell, that hasn’t happened, and he now fears that Lightfoot will simply “go ahead with the demolition” in the coming days.

“We’re being stonewalled,” said Montes, who is also pushing for an evacuation of the area surrounding the site in the case of an explosion.

Lightfoot’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.