‘Irresponsible and Wrong’: More Fallout from Crawford Smokestack Demolition

There was more fallout Monday from a planned smokestack demolition that took place Saturday in the city’s Little Village neighborhood. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the company involved in the demolition failed to follow guidelines that would have prevented a plume of dust from wafting through the community, which has already been hit disproportionately hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The mayor has suspended additional work at the site and says the city is looking into what went wrong. 

But Little Village residents are fuming and say the mayor’s actions are too little too late, especially given the concerns about COVID-19’s impact on breathing and the fact that Little Village struggles with high rates of asthma and other underlying medical conditions.

“Many people are sick in this community, they already have problems with breathing and lungs, and now coronavirus too,” said resident Dolores Castaneda.

The smokestack came down just after 8 a.m. Saturday, causing dust to spread north into a densely populated residential area. Photos and video on social media captured what appeared to be a near whiteout, and it enraged the entire community. 

The operation was carried out by Hilco Redevelopment Partners – a company that has gotten city subsidies to rehab the Crawford industrial site and build what will be a distribution center for Target. 

Residents were also upset that they were given mere hours notice. A one-sheet memo was slipped into fences and mailboxes warning of the Saturday morning project on Friday afternoon, and it said: “… there will be extensive dust control and mitigation efforts including a variety of water trucks, water cannons and direct driven misting systems. Additionally the Chicago Fire department will be on hand for dust mitigation.”

It appears that didn’t happen, but residents say their anger is equally directed at city officials who OK’d the permit.

“Every step of this has shown a true negligent and disregard to the actual process of community engagement and notification,” said Lucky Camargo with the neighborhood group Mi Villita. “It’s a recurring pattern we see here.”

“It’s just environmental terrorism to me,” said resident Daniel Reynoso. “You can see this park (Piotrowski Park) and the smokestack is right behind me, so you can see how people can be directly affected.”

On Monday, 25th Ward Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez led a group of City Council members who are calling on Chicago’s inspector general to investigate the incident.

“The least we can do is to make sure we protect (residents) from extra hazards to the environment,” said Sigcho-Lopez. “For someone to have issued the permit knowing there are risks involved in this kind of operation is irresponsible and wrong and we call on the IG to investigate not only Hilco, but why this permit was given in the first place. We need to hold people accountable.”

The city’s Department of Buildings gave a green light to the demolition nearly two weeks ago, and local Ald. Michael Rodriguez, 22nd Ward, was on board but didn’t inform residents of the event until Friday evening.

“I did learn about this incident — this permit — about a week before the events,” Rodriguez told “Chicago Tonight” Monday evening. “I obtained a commitment from the developer to inform the community of what was about to happen. I acknowledge that once I finalized my research and knew that the city had given this permit and there was no way we could delay or cancel the process, I should’ve gone online and let folks know what was going on. It was a mistake. It’s a mistake I acknowledge. It’s something that will never happen again under my leadership.”

Rodriguez also said Hilco assured him the dust was going to be contained.

Video: Ald. Michael Rodriguez, 22nd Ward, speaks to to “Chicago Tonight” on Monday evening near the site of the former coal plant.

Lightfoot on Monday said the fault lies completely at the feet of Hilco for not keeping to promises of dust control, and that they’ve acknowledged their errors.

“We’re not happy with what happened, it shouldn’t have happened,” Lightfoot said. “There were steps they should’ve take to make sure it didn’t happen, they clearly failed to take those steps and they will be held accountable to the full extent of the power we have.”

Additionally, she says the city is looking into various punitive fines against the company for violating city law. Meanwhile, public health Commissioner Allison Arwady says they are monitoring air quality, and preliminary inspections showed there was no asbestos in the smokestack.

Little Village residents say they’ve seen street sweepers out Monday trying to clean the area, and a small percentage of residents have received face masks.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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