LITTLE VILLAGE — Before demolition resumed at the old Crawford Coal Plant, city officials and developer Hilco Redevelopment Partners assured Little Village residents a “mechanical demolition” and water cannons would stop dust from being airborne.
But last week, a video shared on Facebook captured dust billowing in the air as heavy construction equipment knocked down a large section of the building at 3501 S. Pulaski Road.
In a video posted on a popular Facebook page La Villita Chicago, heavy construction equipment is seen knocking down a portion of the turbine building, sending dust into the air. The one-minute clip captured by someone driving by on Pulaski Road has received more than 30,000 views on the page and garnered more than a hundred comments online.
Edith Tovar, an organizer with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said the video was another example of how city officials were not taking the demolition seriously.
“We have homes a few hundred feet away and for the city to think because they are doing a manual demolition it will prevent dust from traveling,” Tovar said. “A lot of this dust is going to make its way to peoples’ homes.”
After being feeling trapped because of coronavirus, residents searching for a reprieve with the warm weather now have to rethink whether to keep windows open because of the demolition of the century-old coal plant, Tovar said.
For two years, neighbors have called on city officials to stop Hilco Redevelopment Partners from turning the old coal plant into a 1-million square foot warehouse for Target that would bring hundreds of new diesel trucks to the area.
The chorus of voices calling for Hilco to abandon the project have only intensified since a botched implosion at the site in April covered Little Village in dust.
In the aftermath, Mayor Lori Lightfoot indefinitely stopped work at the site. But earlier this month, city officials gave Hilco and its contractor the green light to demolish the turbine building, saying the building was an imminent danger to the neighborhood. Despite multiple requests, the city has not provided structural reports for the building.
Mimi Simon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings, said “protecting the health and safety of residents in every community remains the City’s top priority.”
“Though there was some routine dust, as is typical for all demolitions, City inspectors have confirmed that at no time did any dust leave the site during the operation,” Simon said in an email statement.
“The demolition strictly followed the dust mitigation plan which included five dust bosses, two pumping 100 gallons of water per minute and three pumping 40 gallons per minute. The water successfully intercepted the dust which caused it to dissipate soon after it was created,” she said.
A week before the demolition, Hilco officials said in a letter the company would conduct a “mechanical demolition” of a turbine building starting on June 5.
“All activities, performed by Heneghan Wrecking & Excavation Co., Inc., will be conducted in accordance with its dust mitigation plans which have been approved by the City of Chicago Department of Public Health and the City of Chicago Department of Buildings,” company officials wrote.
The city’s Department of Public Health and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency have conducted a thorough review of contractor Heneghan Wrecking’s dust mitigation plan.
The demolition would be a “mechanical demolition” with bricks removed a few pieces at a time. “No explosives” or wrecking ball would be used, Department of Buildings Commissioner Judith Frydland told residents the building said, and the demolition would take one to two days.
Water cannons would be used to prevent dust from leaving the site. Large scissor-like equipment will then be used to remove the remaining steel columns, Frydland said during a virtual meeting in May.
However, the video contradicts the description given to residents. Instead of a “few pieces” of brick at a time, the equipment dismantled a large portion of the front facade of the structure.
Asked about the video, Hilco Redevelopment Partners said “[i]nspectors from the City of Chicago Department of Buildings and Department of Public Health were on site and observing the work during the mechanical demolition and will remain onsite through the demolition process.
“No issues have been reported by either of these departments as a result of the mechanical demolition which has taken place as outlined,” the company said in their statement.
Residents and activists have long called for the company to abandon the project and for the city to rescind the $ 19.7 million 6B tax credit granted to the developer. Those pleas to city officials have increased following the April implosion.
On Friday, Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) called on city officials to revoke economic development tax incentives given to corporations that “betray the public’s trust.”
Ald. Rodriguez said that massive failure should trigger a revocation of Hilco’s tax breaks. He told a City Council committee that an ordinance to do just that needs to be passed. He introduced a resolution calling on the city to create the needed law.
“These incentives are designed to spur economic growth, not stop that growth, and we’ve had that happen in our community and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Rodriguez said at a Friday hearing before the council’s Committee on Economic, Capital and Technological Development.
Rodriguez, who along with city officials and the Mayor have been criticized on the handling of the demolition, has called on city officials to stop work at the site until the stay at home order has been lifted but said, even so, “Hilco had to go for being bad actors,” the alderman said. Rodriguez told city officials to wait until the stay at home order was lifted.
But that’s not enough, Tovar said.
The city needs to take action and conduct soil sampling of homes and public areas near the site and called on city officials to exercise eminent domain to secure the Crawford and Fisk from Hilco Redevelopment Partners.
City officials need to make Little Village residents a priority and take their health and wellbeing seriously, Tovar said.
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