BURNSIDE — A South Side steel plant is no longer seeking a permit to expand its operations, state officials said this week.
Finkl Steel on Monday withdrew its bid for a permit to build three furnaces at its Chicago facility, 1355 E. 93rd St. in Burnside, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency officials said Wednesday.
“They didn’t say why, they just said they’d withdraw,” said Sabrina Bailey, community outreach coordinator for the agency. “This was something voluntary — they wanted to do this project … and they decided to withdraw. They could come back [and apply again] if they chose.”
Finkl applied to build the furnaces in July. Two of them would have been used for forging steel, while the other would have been used for heat treatments, according to the permit application.
Company officials said the facility could stay under the state’s existing cap on the plant’s pollution emissions if the furnaces were built.
Finkl representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite the permit withdrawal, agency officials still met with neighbors Wednesday at Olive-Harvey College, 10001 S. Woodlawn Ave. in Pullman.
No permit was drafted prior to the company’s withdrawal, the environmental agency officials said. State officials initially planned the meeting to gauge the community’s reaction to Finkl’s plans, Bailey said.
Residents instead discussed environmental issues facing the community, from concerns over Finkl’s operations since moving to the South Side to lax pollution enforcement citywide and Lake Michigan’s water quality.
Rep. Marcus Evans, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, did not support Finkl’s bid to build more furnaces, he said. It was “disrespectful” for the company to not send a representative to the meeting to explain the situation even after withdrawing the application, he said.
“Do you need [the furnaces]? Do you not need them? What’s going on?” he said. “… I called [last week], we started asking questions, and all of the sudden they changed their mind.”
Finkl Steel moved from mostly white Lincoln Park to mostly Black Burnside with support from South Side Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), according to the Chicago Reporter. The North Side facility was torn down in 2015, and that property is being redeveloped into the massive Lincoln Yards project.
A 2019 explosion in a slag pit at Finkl’s South Side site sent fireballs flying into the air, burning a house a block away.
A federal risk-screening tool suggests the potential for human health risks from Finkl’s emissions was 20 times higher than the risks posed by the median U.S. iron or steel mill in 2020, the latest year data is available.
Southeast Side activists are calling on state legislators to pass an “environmental justice act” which would require facilities seeking to open in communities overburdened by pollution to undergo an environmental and public health assessment.
Organizers and local leaders have also called on city officials to pass a similar cumulative impact ordinance. Such an ordinance would require the city to study not only how a proposed business would impact the environment, but also its context among the impacts of nearby businesses.
“What we’re looking at is supporting policies [that make it] so we don’t have to wait until we see the smoke, then rally and start to protest” against unwanted facilities, said Samuel Corona, an organizer with the Alliance of the Southeast.
Finkl’s North Side facility neighbored the former location of General Iron, another industrial facility which planned to move its operations from Lincoln Park to the South Side. The city ultimately blocked the metal scrapper’s move, though a judge is expected to rule on the company’s appeal of that decision this month.
The city’s “driving role” in General Iron’s plans spurred residents to file a civil rights complaint. Following an investigation, federal officials found the city’s clustering of polluters in nonwhite communities amounted to environmental racism.
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