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City Watchdog, Lightfoot Announce Parallel Investigations Into Little Village Dust Cloud

The city has to "explain why this permit was so urgent, why this was necessary in the middle of a pandemic," Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez said.

A drone video showed how the dust cloud spread from the Crawford demolition site and descended onto Little Village homes.
Alejandro Reyes/YouTube
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CITY HALL — Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has opened an investigation into a partial factory demolition that blanketed nearby homes in a cloud of dust on Saturday and prompted two days of fury and finger-pointing from city officials, a spokesperson for the office confirmed on Monday.  

At the same time, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is pushing city departments under her direction to type up a “preliminary report” on how Hilco Redevelopment Partners failed to put promised dust control measures into place, she said during a press conference on Monday.

“We started our work on Saturday, and it’s my hope that we’re going to have a preliminary report that we can put out later this week,” Lightfoot said. 

RELATED: Lightfoot halts demolitions citywide after “unacceptable” implosion blankets Little Village in dust  

The mayor also said that she spoke with Hilco Redevelopment Partners CEO Roberto Perez and “made it very clear” that “they own this, and they have to mitigate the harm that has been done to residents and residents’ property.” 

However, local environmental activists and some members of City Council have leveled blame on city officials for allowing the demolition to take place over the concerns of neighbors. 

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) told The Daily Line on Monday that he welcomes the city’s internal review but wants “to emphasize the importance of having an independent, non-partisan agency look into this, even if it takes longer.”   

“Of course it’s important that Hilco be held accountable, but it’s our responsibility within the city to understand why this permit was ever awarded in the first place,” Sigcho–Lopez said. “They have to explain why this permit was so urgent, why this was necessary in the middle of a pandemic. This was not an essential activity.” 

Construction activities have been deemed an “essential business” and continue unimpeded in Illinois, unlike in New York and Michigan, where building has largely been put to a halt.  

Sigcho-Lopez joined at least seven of his colleagues — Alds. Daniel La Spata (1st), Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Matt Martin (47th), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Andre Vasquez (40th) — in calling for Ferguson to open an investigation into how the proposed demolition passed muster with the city. 

“If the aldermen want to have the IG engage, have at it,” Lightfoot told reporters when asked about the request on Monday. “But I’m not going to wait for an IG report.” 

Lightfoot added that Hilco’s CEO was “embarrassed and contrite” and had sent out “a team of people to literally go door-to-door to assess the damage” from the pollution.  

A spokesperson for the development firm confirmed Lightfoot’s comments on Monday. 

“We are working cooperatively with the City of Chicago to review Saturday’s demolition event undertaken by our contractor,” Perez wrote in a statement. “We are sensitive to the concerns of the community and we will continue to work in full cooperation.”  

Lightfoot ordered a work stoppage at the site of the former Crawford coal plant, which Hilco plans to demolish and replace with a new 1 million-square-foot shipping and logistics facility. The City Council voted to approve the project in 2018 and later approved a $19.7 million tax incentive to support it. 

When asked Monday if she wanted to see the tax break revoked, the mayor said she does not “know that there’s basis for that kind of action.” 

Officials said Sunday that Hilco secured a demolition permit from the city’s buildings department last month. 

Lightfoot has also faced criticism from Ald. Brian  Hopkins,(2nd), who tweeted Sunday that Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) would have been able to prevent the demolition were it not for Lightfoot’s day-one order to end aldermanic privilege over permitting decisions. 

“If you were among the many who applauded this unprecedented mayoral power grab because it eliminated aldermanic ‘fiefdoms’ you own this,”  Hopkins wrote

Sigcho-Lopez echoed that critique, saying Downtown officials had made the “unilateral decision” to approve the implosion without notifying or taking input from neighbors. 

“When the health of residents is on the line, we must make sure we have a process where we have accountability, and that is not happening,” Sigcho-Lopez said Monday. “Now everybody is pointing fingers, but at the end of the day, Mayor Lightfoot campaigned on the promise of a better process, and her process is not working…we need to reform the guidelines before we issue permits.” 

Rodriguez declined to say  whether he would have acted to prevent the demolition if he were empowered to do so, calling it a “hypothetical.” 

Rodriguez told The Daily Line on Monday that he supports both the mayor’s investigation and a “third-party” review by Ferguson’s office. 

“I’m certainly very upset with Hilco, but I want a review of how the city did its job” leading up to the implosion, Rodriguez said. “There were a number of city departments involved in the process, and we need to look at all those efforts.” 

RELATED COVERAGE:

What Was In Dust Cloud That Covered Little Village? City Aims To Release Report This Week, Lightfoot Says

Planned Explosion Covered Little Village In Dust During Respiratory Pandemic — Why Did The City Let It Happen?

Mayor Shuts Down Crawford Coal Project After ‘Unacceptable’ Dust Cloud Descends On Little Village

Dust Cloud Envelops Little Village After Smokestack Demolition: ‘My Lungs Started Hurting’

After Old Crawford Coal Plant Smokestack Blown Up, Little Village Residents Worry About Dust During Global Pandemic

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

After Worker’s Death, Hilco Resumes Work At Old Crawford Coal Plant Site In Little Village

Little Village Residents Search For Answers After Worker Dies At Old Crawford Coal Plant Site

Demolition Of Crawford Coal Plant Suspended After Worker Falls To His Death

Worker Falls To His Death In ‘Tragic Accident’ At Crawford Coal Plant In Little Village

After Little Village Residents Told To Stay Inside During Coal Plant Demolition, City Says It Will Inspect The Crawford Site Every Week

City Tells Worried Little Village Residents To ‘Limit Outdoor Activities’ As Crews Demolish Old Coal Plant

Illinois EPA To Detail Clean-Up Efforts Of Old Little Village Coal Plant Site Tuesday

Controversial Little Village Distribution Center Gets $19.7 Million Tax Break Approval From City Council

Massive Little Village Warehouse On Old Crawford Coal Plant Site Approved By City Council

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After Post-Arrest Absence, Ald. Muñoz Returns To City Hall To Argue For Tax Break For Little Village Project

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Huge Distribution Hub Likely Replacing Crawford Coal Plant — Meaning More Dirty Air For Little Village, Critics Say

Little Village Neighbors Demand City Stop Crawford Redevelopment Plan

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