By Saul Brant and Sammy Castrejón | @RedLineProject | Posted: Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020
Implosion of the smoke stacks in April covered the Little Village neighborhood in dust. (Photo/Creative Commons)
There are still some abandoned industrial buildings left standing throughout Chicago, but the Crawford Generating Station is no longer one of them. But he spring demolition of the site made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Located on 3501 S. Pulaski Rd, right next to the Little Village neighborhood, the station was demolished on April 11, 2020.
Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22th Ward) said the project to demolish the plant was inherited by him from the previous alderman. A developer, Hilco Partners purchased the 70-acre site in 2017. They had plans to build a massive one million square foot distribution center and had received City Council approval to remediate the site.
But when crews imploded smokestacks on April 20, and everything went wrong. There was an enormous cloud dust everywhere near the neighborhood.
Aylin Cruz-Aviles, a third-year college student who has lived in Little Village her entire life, remembers what happened that day. She lives a block away from the plant.
“It was certainly very loud,” Cruz-Aviles said. “Some people, you could hear them out on the street, they were quite upset because the ground was actually moving because of it (the implosion).”
The botched implosion spurred Mayor Lightfoot to begin an investigation of the implosion.
The Chicago Department of Public Health with assistance from the United States Environmental Protection Agency tested samples of the dust. According to the EPA, from April 14, 2020 to May 5, 2020, they conducted air monitoring around the perimeter of the site. In the same time frame, the EPA collected daily air samples around the perimeter of the site as well.
This investigation yielded positive results, as the dust from the demolition site that was tested for toxic substances came back negative.
“Thank God they didn’t find anything in that dust,” said Rodriguez, who added that the situation continues to be monitored.
The station was built in 1924 to store coal and burn coal to provide power to many homes across the city of Chicago. It was closed in 2012 as the use of coal power plants was decreasing and arguments of high pollution in the area.
However, this is not the first time that this Power Plant site has been associated with controversy. In December of 2019, an on site worker fell to his death. This resulted in all work to be momentarily halted.
An older gentleman with health conditions also died the morning after the demolition, however, Rodriguez said that there is no evidence of the death being related to the dust from the demolition itself.
“I don't know if you could prove that it was this situation that caused it, but a lot of people believe it was,” Rodriguez said.
Ultimately, this situation had both pros and cons, according to Cruz-Aviles.
“There's definitely a lot more people who are now more willing to kind of inform themselves to actively seek out information about what's going on in our local government,” she said.
“But at the same time, people feel like the city doesn't actually care for our community because no one really bothered to make sure that the demolition happened properly.”
In the days that followed after the implosion, Cruz-Aviles said there were protests in Little Village and unrest on social media because of all the dust that was in air and all of this could have been prevented had the residents received the notice weeks before the implosion of the smokestacks.
There were many people who were for the demolition project and believed that with a logistics center replacing it, that would help create jobs for people in the area. This was also the city’s plan to modernize Little Village’s industrial corridor.
Some in the community opposed it, saying they feared the levels of contamination or pollution from the diesel semi-trucks that would drive through the community. Rodriguez received some community opposition.
“There was significant community pushback, I think everyone was in favor of the coal burning power plant coming down.” Rodriguez said. “There were definitely differences of opinion on what should replace it. But, it was approved by the city council and by the previous mayor to have this logistics facility up there.”
Cruz-Aviles, had a similar perspective to many residents of the community.
“I understand that it's something that had to happen. So I can't be completely against it. I just think that there needed to be better measures taken to ensure the safety of the people, health wise and pollution wise,” Cruz-Aviles said.
An analysis of Google search data shows how the public may have become more worried as more information came out.
Once Hilco had received the permit from the City of Chicago to begin, the developer provided written assurances to Rodriguez and city officials that it would do everything to make sure the dust would stay on site and not affect the neighborhood. But that wasn’t the case.
“Well, they lied to the community and lied to us, and what ended up happening was a plume of smoke, a tomb of dust ended up developing, several blocks around the neighborhood,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez later found out a day or two before the implosion that Hilco hadn’t yet notified the community and residents of Little Village about the implosion and this was something that the developer promised to do. With the COVID-19 pandemic in its early stages, the alderman thought it was best to stop it for the moment.
“We relied on the company to do what they said they were going to do and inform the neighborhood that this was going to happen. They committed to me to send letters to local neighborhood residents,” Rodriguez said. “So a day or two beforehand, I found out that those letters hadn't arrived, I called the city and I said, ‘we should stop this.’ Unfortunately, the city thought that the company was in their legal rights, and they have turned their permits in.”
Since this mishap, a helicopter lift occurred at the site, which this time resulted in better preparedness, according to Rodriguez.
“So we made sure that they gave the community one week's notice before they did that,” Rodriguez said.
This situation has affected future development plans in the city already, Rodriguez said. Demolition at Cook County Jail, although a different ward, was met with early communication from officials to the public. This ensures that contractors work a certain way, the public is informed, and the measuring of air quality is taking place.
Further measurements taken to be sure something like this does not happen again include a strict new law, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said, “If any company gets a tax incentive for the City of Chicago, in particular, and in the end betrays the public trust like they did here, we could take away that tax incentive. So we're putting developers on notice that they need to be held accountable to our communities.”
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