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Lincoln Park, Old Town

Ald. Brian Hopkins Calls For End To General Iron’s Overnight Shift On Riverfront Site

The city's Committee on Environmental Health and Protection will discuss the matter at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

General Iron's scrapyard
Alisa Hauser/ Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN PARK — General Iron — a scrapyard that recycles metal on a prime Riverfront site near the proposed $5 billion Lincoln Yards development — plans to leave its longtime quarters in Lincoln Park sometime in 2020.

But until then, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) wants the scrap metal facility at 1909 N. Clifton Ave. to stop operating overnight.

Last Thursday, Hopkins invoked a rarely-used rule to force a vote that could block General Iron from operating at night near the North Branch of the Chicago River. Hopkins first introduced the ordinance in February, calling for Chicago Department of Public Health Dr. Julie Morita to revoke a waiver that allowed General Iron to “receive, process, transport or otherwise handle recyclable materials between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.” as of Dec. 31.

Filed last Thursday with City Clerk Anna Valencia, Hopkins’ notice to invoke Rule 41 of the council’s regulations permits an item that has not been acted on for 60 days to be called for a vote if it wins a majority vote of all aldermen. The following afternoon, Committee on Health and Environmental Protection Chairman Ald. George Cardenas (12th) set a hearing on the matter for 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for General Iron, said the firm hopes to be allowed to continue to operate overnight. Samborm said that Hopkins’ order would “deprive the city of a vital service that would cause truckloads of scrap metal to back-up in streets and alleys and it would disproportionately harm minority workers.”

Calling it a “a blatant attempt to shut down a 100-year-old business,” Samborn urged aldermen to reject the order, which he called a “malicious action.”

Credit: Alisa Hauser/ Block Club Chicago
A gate guards the General Iron truck entrance Monday.

Samborn said the company, which provides a “vital green service” turning old cars and appliances into reusable raw material, has already announced plans to move to and establish a state-of-the-art recycling facility. 

“The company has been working cooperatively with their strategic partner and the city to transition to a new location. Attempts to force the business to shut down sooner are unwarranted and dismissive of the hundreds of mostly minority families that rely on metal recycling for jobs and income,” Samborn said.

The measure has been awaiting a hearing since February. Cardenas did not respond Friday to an email message from The Daily Line Friday. Hopkins did not respond to requests for comment on Friday from The Daily Line or Block Club Monday.

Hopkins has long been critical of the operations at General Iron, which was cited in July by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act, and urged the business to relocate.

That finding confirms “what nearby residents have long known — that General Iron’s high volume hammermill metal shredder routinely emits unsafe levels of dust, volatile organic compounds and other harmful material into the air we breathe in the surrounding residential neighborhood,” Hopkins wrote in an email message to 2nd Ward residents in July.

General Iron made its relocation announcement in July.  Company leaders said the facility will move out of the North Branch corridor by 2020 and put its Riverfront land up for sale. General Iron plans to relocate to the city’s Southeast side.

Samborn said General Iron has been at its current location for more than 50 years and has operated under its existing 5 a.m.-10 p.m. daily hours for that entire time. The metal shredder typically runs from 7 am.-7 p.m., but some nights operates until 9 p.m., he said.

The hours that Hopkins wants to shut down are for loading and unloading, separating and sorting materials and for some trucks to arrive and drop off items, Samborn said.

Some 75 percent of General Iron’s 130 workers are Latino or African-American, Samborn said.

In a newsletter on Monday to Lincoln Park residents, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), said she supports Hopkins’ effort to revoke the waiver and that if passed, believes it will “significantly curtail General Iron’s impact on the surrounding neighborhoods until it moves.”

Larry Bennett, executive director of North Branch Works, a business advocacy group for companies located along the North Branch corridor, said he could see congestion being a concern if General Iron gets ordered to stop overnight operations. 

“If closing at night means that they are squeezing all the trucks [that come in overnight] into 6 a.m.-6 p.m., it could create more traffic congestion around the site. It could be a case of the remedy more of a problem than the disease,” Bennett said.

After Crain’s broke the news of General Iron’s impending relocation, Hopkins said in July that he will not be satisfied with “a drawn-out relocation process of General Iron.”

“With the North Branch modernization and environmental issues in mind, this transition should be expedited to accommodate for the future of the area. I will continue my push to ensure that long-awaited improvements to this community are delivered safely and swiftly,” Hopkins said.

Lincoln Park residents had been pressing General Iron — embroiled in inter-family lawsuits and deemed hazardous and unsafe by city inspectors — to move for years.

The General Iron site is not included in Sterling Bay’s proposed Lincoln Yards development but is very close to it. Smith and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) have advocated for the city to buy the scrapyard land and build a public park at the site.

“General Iron leaving is only part of the solution. We must seize the opportunity to create sorely needed public open space,” Smith wrote to her constituents Monday.