MCKINLEY PARK — The owners of a controversial asphalt plant in McKinley Park gave away 1,000 turkeys to neighbors ahead of Thanksgiving — a move that some neighbors say is meant to counteract their efforts to get the plant booted from the South Side neighborhood.
MAT Asphalt drew the ire of some McKinley Park neighbors last year when owners built the asphalt plant directly across from the neighborhood’s namesake 72-acre park at 2055 W. Pershing Road without notifying residents ahead of time. In response, neighbors formed Neighbors for Environmental Justice to urge city and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency officials to intervene.
In Chicago, politicians, businesses and churches host turkey giveaways to feed the hungry and curry favor with neighbors. MAT Asphalt plant manager Joe Haughey said the company’s turkey giveaway is a small part of keeping MAT Asphalt’s promise to be a good neighbor.
“Staying in lockstep with what we said from the get-go, [we] want to be the best neighbors we can possibly be. It seemed like the right thing to do,” Haughey said, adding that the turkey giveaway will likely be an annual event.
The asphalt company spread the word about the turkey giveaway by distributing thousands of fliers in the area. About 800 turkeys were given out at an event at the asphalt plant and another 200 turkeys were delivered to older adults who couldn’t make it to the plant. Only four turkeys were unclaimed, Haughey said.
But neighbor Anthony Moser, who lives just a couple blocks from the plant, said turkeys don’t begin to make up for the plant’s environmental impact on the neighborhood — or the company’s community engagement related to its pollution permits, a process Moser said the company botched. They are a publicity stunt, he said.
“If they had been interested in being good neighbors and engaging in good faith, we would have heard from them before the plant was built. We would have had discussions with them before they began operating instead of afterwards,” Moser said.
Instead of turkeys, Moser suggested MAT Asphalt install air-quality monitoring devices that would measure the concentration of volatile compounds released by the plant.
In MAT Asphalt’s pollution permit application to the IEPA, the factory disclosed that at full capacity it would produce up to 117 tons of particulate matter each year. And since McKinley Park is recognized by the state as an environmental justice area with a population especially vulnerable to the health impacts of pollution, neighbors were supposed to be involved in the IEPA’s decision to issue the initial 1-year pollution permit that allowed the plant to be built and operated at the site.
But neighbors say MAT Asphalt, the IEPA, the neighborhood’s Ald. George Cardenas (12th) and the city of Chicago all failed to notify the community that the factory had applied for the initial 1-year pollution permit until it was too late for neighbors to voice their concerns.
Now that MAT Asphalt has applied for a new 10-year pollution permit, Neighbors for Environmental Justice is pushing the IEPA to deny the plant the new permit.
Haughey said MAT Asphalt uses state-of-the-art technology that minimizes the environmental health impact to the surrounding area and makes the plant one of the cleanest plants of its kind in the nation. The plant produces about the same emissions as 13 residential fireplaces over a year, Haughey said.
But residents said they want their complaints to be taken seriously by the IEPA and MAT Asphalt. Turkeys alone aren’t going to make them forget about the dust that lingers when the factory is running, Moser said.
“We think that they are trying to give out some turkeys and wait out the process and think people will just get over it and get used to it,” Moser said. “We don’t look at this as a good-faith effort.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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