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Illinois EPA refers ‘enforcement action’ against Hilco for Little Village smokestack implosion debacle

“While some dust suppression controls were utilized, a substantial plume of dust exited the site from the implosion,” the IEPA statement said.

Dust cloud from a smokestack implosion blankets Little Village on April 11, 2020.
The April 11 implosion of a smokestack at a shuttered coal-fired power plant blanketed parts of Little Village in dust.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Hilco Redevelopment Partners has already been slapped with 16 citations and $68,000 in fines after the demolition of a 95-year-old smokestack covered parts of Little Village in dust.

Now, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is piling on the embattled developer.

The IEPA has referred an “enforcement action” to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. The agency accuses Hilco of violating: the Illinois Environmental Protection Act; regulations issued by the Illinois Pollution Control Board; and the terms and conditions of Hilco’s “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general storm water permit for construction site activities.”

Hilco obtained the required stormwater permit in 2019. But the IEPA accused the company of failing to fully implement the “stormwater pollution prevention plan” that accompanied that permit, which “details dust control measures” for the site of the April 11 demolition.

“While some dust suppression controls were utilized, a substantial plume of dust exited the site from the implosion,” the IEPA statement said.

The agency noted Hilco submitted an “Incidence of Non-compliance Report” on April 15, as required by its stormwater permit. The following day, the IEPA sent a violation notice to Hilco for “air and water pollution-related violations stemming from the incident.” The implosion at the site of the shuttered coal-fired power plant coated homes, vehicles and streets with dust.

IEPA Director John J. Kim “requested that Hilco be required to work with” the agency to “prevent future dust control issues.”

Hilco issued a statement saying the company is “in open dialogue with the Illinois EPA, the Illinois Attorney General’s office and other agencies.” The company said the “health, safety and welfare of the local community is of paramount concern to Hilco Redevelopment Partners as we work toward completing this project.”

Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, welcomed the IEPA’s entry into the controversy.

“What you’re seeing is exactly what we’ve been asking for and what we thought to be true,” Wasserman said Wednesday. “They violated massively — not just city protocol, but state protocol. We’re glad the IEPA came through and did their due diligence on this. But this is why we’ve been saying from the beginning — that what the mayor is talking about is definitely not enough.”

Wasserman said the IEPA’s “referral for enforcement action” shows the “glaring lack of coordination” between the city and state — who, she added, need to work together and communicate with the community.

“Hopefully, this means there’s gonna be more stringency — not just in emergency demolitions,” but in all construction activity, she said.