CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended how the city handled demolition work Thursday at the old Crawford coal plant in Little Village, saying they’d done “extensive outreach.”
But residents and the area’s alderman have said they didn’t get any warning at all before the city quietly gave a contractor permission to do more work at the site. Thursday’s demolition work came just weeks after a botched explosion covered the mostly Latino neighborhood in dust during a respiratory pandemic.
Outraged, people marched in Little Village and outside the mayor’s Logan Square home Thursday night. The demolition work was called off just an hour later.
Lightfoot, speaking during a Monday morning press conference, said the city has done “a lot of engagement” with elected officials, residents and environmental groups in the area.
“This is a community that really has felt disrespected, lack of resources, in the middle of a very difficult and challenging environmental problem for decades. And we have to recognize that, I have to recognize it and I do,” Lightfoot said. “The way to address these issues as best we can is recognize, No. 1, we’re not gonna be able to erase decades of feeling in one moment.
“But we do have to constantly look for other ways in which we can help reach out, help educate and listen to what people in those communities are saying.”
But Lightfoot said the building contractors were trying to demolish is unsafe and must come down soon. The city has closed another lane on Pulaski Road at 35th Place, leaving just one southbound and one northbound lane open there, because the road is close to the building.
“We should have done a better job [communicating] last week. We’re trying to address that shortcoming now,” Lightfoot said. “The building we’re talking about is a risk. It is structurally compromised. And what I also worry about is, while we’re in conversation with members of the community, something happening on site that poses not only a danger to the workers who are there, but it’s right up against Pulaski Avenue.”
Lightfoot said she toured herself Friday and the building is “structurally unsound.”
“It’s not safe for anybody,” Lightfoot said. “While we absolutely must continue to educate residents, demonstrate to them visually as well as orally what the dangers are, those buildings must come down. And we’re gonna do it step by step. But they’re not safe and we have to bring them down.”
But Lightfoot also said the city has done “extensive outreach” and the alderman was aware of the building’s state and that the city want to proceed with the demolition.
Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), who represents the area, said he was notified of the demolition Thursday afternoon — the same day the work began. The city has to do a “better job of communicating with residents in the area,” he said.
“People have questions, people have concerns and people want to understand what’s going on,” Rodriguez said Monday.
Rodriguez said he is “against anything happening” on the site until the stay at home order is lifted.
“If the city decides this building is an imminent danger to public safety, they have to be able to communicate it to the public in multiple ways and [with] multiple stakeholders,” Rodriguez said. “I’ll be pushing the city to have a public conversation with community residents about that.”
Block Club Chicago has requested a structural engineering report from the city but has not received one to date.
The latest demolition work came on the heels of a botched demolition that left Little Village covered in dust amid a respiratory pandemic. Residents received little to no notice before that planned implosion.
The April 11 implosion caused citywide outrage, especially as Chicago’s Latino community battles high rates of coronavirus. As of Friday morning, the 60623 ZIP code, which includes Little Village, has had 2,325 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
At the time, Lightfoot slammed the site’s owner, Hilco Redevelopment Partners, and vowed to stop work at the site indefinitely.
Hilco’s plan to build a one million-square warehouse at the former Crawford Coal Plant, 3501 S. Pulaski Road, has been criticized by environmental activists and residents for years. The area already faced high levels of air pollution due to the century-old coal plant, and the new warehouse will bring fleets of diesel trucks into the community.
At a protest outside the old Crawford Coal Plant Thursday night, State Senator Celina Villanueva said she was fed up. Villanueva, who lives in Little Village, said the only reason she knew about the latest work is because she is an elected official. Her parents would have had no idea if she hadn’t told them, she said.
“We’re done with this,” she told a group of Little Village protesters. “…Nobody from Hilco is talking to our community and we’re tired of it.”
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