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Old Crawford Coal Plant Smokestack Will Be Blown Up Saturday In Little Village

Little Village environmental leaders said they are concerned about the implosion's timing, as coronavirus impacts respiratory health.

Hilco Development Partners owns the old Crawford Coal Plant site at 3501 S. Pulaksi Road in Little Village.
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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LITTLE VILLAGE — A smokestack at the old Crawford Coal Plant is scheduled to be imploded Saturday morning in Little Village, officials confirmed.

At 8 a.m. Saturday, Hilco Redevelopment Partners and its contractors will demolish the smokestack at the former coal plant, 3501 S. Pulaski Road. The site is being redeveloped into a 1-million-square-foot distribution center.

The developer will use explosive materials to collapse the structure in 5-7 seconds, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation said. The health and safety of workers and the local community will be prioritized, officials said.

“Extensive dust control and mitigation efforts including watering techniques such as water trucks, water cannons and direct-drive misting systems” will be employed, officials said. The Chicago Fire Department will be on hand for dust suppression. 

Neighborhood groups, including the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said they are concerned about the implosion’s timing, as the coronavirus pandemic impacts respiratory health.

Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said she learned of the planned implosion at 11 p.m. Thursday. Now is “not an appropriate time to expose over 75,000 people stuck in their homes to asbestos and lead,” she said.

Wasserman is calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to intervene and stop the implosion.

“There’s a serious lack of trust on how the implosion will impact Little Village residents,” Wasserman said. 

Hilco spokeswoman Julia Sznewajs said abatement testing shows no presence of asbestos or lead in the smokestack. But she said she could not immediately produce those testing reports, and deferred questions to the city.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) was informed of the planned implosion earlier this week by the city’s Department of Buildings and Department of Public Health. The alderman said Hilco has met every city requirement for the work.

“I am most concerned about the health and welfare of our residents, that’s why I will be on site Saturday,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez asked Hilco to notify neighbors via letters in English and Spanish, so they could prepare and wouldn’t be alarmed. Notices to residents and business were mailed earlier this week after city officials confirmed the demolition date, Sznewajs confirmed.

A canvass team is also dropping flyers at homes near the site on Friday, she said. The developer posted an implosion notice on the project website on Thursday.

The Chicago Department of Public Health is monitoring the site weekly to ensure abatement work is being done safely at the site, said Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the city.

Hilco “was required to provide proof that remediation was completed and appropriate steps were taken to maintain air quality standards” before the smokestack could be destroyed, she said.

“The Chicago Department of Public Health has completed multiple inspections to evaluate the conditions, and the city does not expect any air quality concerns other than the normal dust that will be controlled with various water equipment,” Hofer said.

CDOT worked with city and state agencies to make sure that the safety of community members is a top priority, Hofer said.

In a statement, Hilco officials said the demolition of the concrete stack is a milestone marking the site’s transformation from coal plant to “a modern economic engine for Little Village and the city of Chicago.”

From 7:15-8:15 a.m. Saturday, parking will be restricted near the site.

From 7:55 a.m.-8:15 a.m., Pulaski Road from 33rd Street to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal will be temporarily closed. Intersections at Pulaski Road and O’Connor Road; 35th Place and 36th Street will also be closed.

The century-old Crawford Power Plant was shut down in 2012 after community-led efforts raised concerns about the impact coal pollution was having on the health of Little Village residents. 

Hilco’s redevelopment plan sparked anger among residents who feared the distribution center would bring more diesel trucks and increase pollution in the neighborhood. 

After the project was approved by City Council, neighbors and activists called on the developer to install air monitors ahead of the demolition and remediation of the site.

Last year, neighbors and activists raised concerns about the health and safety of workers nearby residents. Those concerns were raised after a worker plummeted 50 feet to his death in December 2019.

The distribution center is expected to be completed in 2021.

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