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Little Village Neighbors Blindsided Again By Demolition At Hilco Site — A Month After Dust Cloud Fiasco

Demolition work began Thursday, city officials said. Ald. Michael Rodriguez said he was notified the same day. “[I have] no reason to have faith in Hilco to get this done right.”

The old Crawford Coal Plant in Little Village on Sunday, one day after the century-old smokestack was demolished. 
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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LITTLE VILLAGE — A month after a demolition gone wrong at the old Crawford coal plant covered Little Village in dust, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered work halted, city officials quietly gave a contractor permission to demolish a turbine at the plant — with no notice to neighbors.

While two city officials said work to demolish the turbine began at the site Thursday — before neighbors were notified — Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) said he was told work would begin Friday. It is not immediately known what time of day the work was planned or if neighbors in the immediate area will be impacted.

Reached Thursday, a Department of Buildings spokesperson refused to detail the demolition timeline at the site, which is owned by Hilco Redevelopment Partners. Hilco officials did not immediately comment.

City officials later confirmed in a statement that work began on the former Crawford Generating Station on Thursday to “address the imminent and dangerous concerns regarding the turbine structure.”

Officials said they called community leaders earlier in the day to inform them about the “immediate need” for the work, but insisted the turbine will not be imploded.

“The demolition will not take place by implosion, and there will be no more implosion in Chicago until a new, separate permitting process is established,” the statement read.

Rodriguez, who represents the area, was notified of the demolition Thursday afternoon — the same day the work began, according to city officials. He immediately told Department of Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland he opposed the demolition. Allowing demolition work to continue in the middle of a pandemic — and after the developer botched a smokestack demolition — is incomprehensible, he said.

“Any risks to our community should outweigh any other issue,” he said. “[I have] no reason to have faith in Hilco to get this done right.”

Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who also represents Little Village, said the disastrous smokestack implosion April 11 “has put all exposed residents” in the “resilient, immigrant” and largely Latino neighborhood “at greater risk of poorer health.”

“A month later, history is teed up to repeat itself, said Cardenas, who serves as chair of the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection. “I implore that Mayor Lightfoot, Commissioner Arwady, and Commissioner Frydland understand the connection between existing health disparities in the Latino community and their susceptibility to suffering from COVID-19.”

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who represents neighboring Pilsen, joined activists in protest of the demolition outside of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s home in Logan Square Thursday night.

Despite the outrage from aldermen, the city said the turbine structure at the old Crawford Coal Plant is unsound and needs to be removed immediately, a Department of Buildings spokesperson said in a statement.

“The contractor, Heneghan Wrecking, has submitted a dust mitigation plan for the removal work, which has undergone a thorough review by the IEPA and the Chicago Department of Public Health,” the statement read.

The majority of the work will be completed in the next several days and will be monitored by city inspectors that have been on site since last month, according to the city’s statement. 

“…The surrounding community will be provided with status updates on this portion of the demolition,” the buildings department spokesperson said.

Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said Hilco and the city gave residents little to no notice before last month’s implosion gone wrong. This time, they got no notice.

“Once again, there was no communication, no plan of action, no precaution that we know of that people need to take,” Wasserman said. 

Wasserman called on city officials to release structural engineering report to prove the demolition is an emergency.

Alexandra Perez, a Little Village resident who lives near the site, said she hadn’t received any notice demolition work was happening at the site. She found out about the work from a Block Club reporter.

“They should have informed us. They are doing it again, like the last time when they didn’t tell us,” Perez said of the city. “I’m pissed.”

City officials have said validated test results show the April 11 dust cloud didn’t contain asbestos or toxic metals. But neighbors are still concerned about the air quality, said Esmeralda Hernandez, who also lives near the old Crawford plant.

“This is infuriating because… Little Village has this pandemic we are worrying about that has hit our community so hard, and now this?” Hernandez said. “The mayor is putting more value on the building than the lives of the community.”

Demolition dust disaster

On April 11, after receiving permits from the city, Hilco Redevelopment Partners and contractors MCM Management Corp and Controlled Demolition toppled the smokestack at the old coal plant site, covering streets nearby in a cloud of dust.

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

Activists had begged the city to block the demolition beforehand, predicting the explosion would lead to poor air quality in the middle of a respiratory pandemic. As of Wednesday morning, the 60623 ZIP code, which includes Little Village, has had 2,166 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

After the botched demolition, Mayor Lightfoot issued a stop work order and said no work would be conducted until further notice. The developer was hit with $68,000 in fines.

At the time, Lightfoot promised a “full investigation.”

In a statement, Hilco officials said they are cooperating with the city during its investigation of what went wrong.

“The City is issuing a stop work order and will conduct a full investigation of today’s incident, including exploration of potential regulatory changes to address operating procedures,” Lightoot said in a tweet. “Additionally, the City is working with Ald. [Michael] Rodriguez and community members to ensure that all residents are aware of the incident and are kept informed of our efforts to address it, and to prevent this from happening again in the future.”

On April 21, city officials said contractor Heneghan Wrecking would be allowed to clean up demolition debris at the site, but any other work was banned.

Lightfoot and Ald. Rodriguez blamed the dust disaster on “dishonest” developer Hilco. Hilco pointed the finger at MCM Management, Hilco’s now-fired contractor, and subcontractor Controlled Demolition Inc.

Lightfoot has said the contractor “utterly failed” to execute the dust mitigation plan.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is now suing Hilco over the implosion, saying the company failed to protect the surrounding community from air pollution.

Hilco faces two other lawsuits from residents following the implosion, as well as a wrongful death suit after a worker plummeted to his death.

The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and some neighbors have called on city officials to rescind a $19.7 million tax break for the project. They have also called for the Hilco to abandon its plans to build a one million-square warehouse at the former Crawford Coal Plant.

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