EAST SIDE — A majority of Southeast Siders who spoke at a meeting Thursday said they don’t want the city to allow General Iron’s owner to open a metal scrapper in East Side.
More than 300 people signed up to speak ahead of Thursday’s meeting on the final permit Reserve Management Group needs to operate Southside Recycling at 11600 S. Burley Ave., said moderator Norma Seledon.
However, only a fraction of them spoke during the two-hour meeting. Officials limited comments to two minutes, prioritized 10th Ward residents in the speaking order and repeatedly suggested comments stick narrowly to the permit application, as opposed to other concerns around RMG’s plans.
About 20 10th Ward residents spoke against issuing the permit, citing concerns that included the planned facility’s location in an environmental justice community, adding to the neighborhood’s existing industrial burden, and a lack of confidence in the city’s responsiveness to residents’ complaints. These concerns have been raised by Southeast Side activists since General Iron agreed to leave Lincoln Park in 2018.
“How many times does the city and alderwoman and mayor have to hear that we do not want these industries here?” asked Oscar Sanchez, a youth organizer with Alliance of the Southeast.
Activists encouraged attendees to give comments for the record at the meeting, then leave for a virtual teach-in organized by local environmental justice groups.
“There are no promises or assurances that RMG or the city can provide to us that could make a difference,” said Richard Martinez, pastor of the Nehemiah Family Fellowship Church, 10950 S. Avenue C. “Equally appalling is the lack of respect and regard that elected and city officials have shown our community in regards to this very important matter.”
Martinez is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the city seeking to block RMG’s operating permit.
Industrial facilities that contribute to the area’s burdens of pollution, traffic and noise “need to contribute back to the community,” said Robert Wisz, president of the Hegewisch Business Association. He wants to see a community benefits agreement put into place “before any type of expansion occurs.”
Seven residents who spoke in favor of the permit being issued, including two RMG employees and other industry backers, mainly addressed the economic benefit and jobs they expect Southside Recycling to provide to the area.
Most existing General Iron employees are expected to make the move from Lincoln Park to Southside Recycling, RMG spokesman Randall Samborn said in October.
“Let’s be real proactive about our neighborhood and keep good-paying jobs in our community,” said Ted Stalnos, president and CEO of the Calumet Area Industrial Commission.
Stalnos said he expects “the strong watchful eye of the [Environmental Protection Agency and] the city of Chicago’s department of health” to hold the facility to regulatory standards.
RMG submitted its operating permit application last month, days after a federal housing official requested the city withhold the permit until a civil rights complaint triggered by the company’s plans could be mediated.
Notice was given about Thursday’s meeting 10 days prior, fulfilling public input rules created for RMG’s permit review. But the city didn’t release details about how to attend until Dec. 4, six days before the meeting.
Holding a meeting on short notice about a complex application during the holiday season “demonstrates the continuing lack of respect” shown by the city toward its residents, Olga Bautista, Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke co-founder, said at a press conference Thursday morning.
The city responded to residents’ requests and extended the public comment period by 15 days. Comments may be submitted by email to email@example.com by Jan. 14.
The city will post “all documents related to this process,” including responses to public comments, on the city’s dedicated RMG webpage, said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Department of Public Health.
Arwady made a similar promise at a July town hall, but the city failed to uphold it, quietly issuing RMG’s first required permit in September.
Officials will also issue written “deficiency notices” to RMG around missing information in its application and concerns raised at Thursday’s meeting, Arwady said.
If the deficiencies are addressed and the city issues a draft permit, another public input process will follow, she said.