LINCOLN PARK — Complying with an agreement with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, General Iron Industries has permanently shuttered its Lincoln Park operation — but the company owner still plans to open Southside Recycling in East Side this year.
General Iron currently neighbors the site of the $6 billion Lincoln Yards megadevelopment in Lincoln Park on the city’s North Side. Reserve Management Group, the owner of General Iron, signed an agreement with Lightfoot in September 2019 to leave the North Side by the end of 2020.
RMG is in the process of moving the shredder’s essential equipment and most existing employees from Lincoln Park to 11600 S. Burley Ave. on the Southeast Side.
The planned Burley Avenue site is a half-mile from George Washington elementary and high schools in East Side, a neighborhood that is 80 percent Latino and already home to a heavy concentration of industry. RMG is in the process of applying for the city permit it needs to operate in East Side.
In the meantime, no more raw materials will be accepted at 1909 N. Clifton St. in Lincoln Park.
The process of disassembling the shredder and other machinery is already in progress, and may take up to 90 days to complete, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said in an email newsletter Monday. All material must be removed from the site by Jan. 10.
“Full site decommissioning must be completed by March 31, 2021, including the complete removal of all associated equipment and machinery, including the demolition and removal of the buildings on the General Iron site,” Hopkins said.
‘We have been filing complaints literally for years’
Lincoln Park neighbors have long complained about the health risks associated with fluff, a substance that routinely coats the neighborhood’s sidewalks, roads, porches and playgrounds. The Environmental Protection Agency defines fluff as “fugitive dust.”
Calls for closure amplified this year as coronavirus swept the area. In April, a group of Bucktown and Lincoln Park neighbors — including a physician — addressed City Council, demanding leaders close the plant during the pandemic.
The plant stayed open until May, when a pair of loud explosions forced its temporary closing. Neighbors again asked leaders again to shutter the plant throughout the duration of the pandemic, introducing a “citizen resolution” to City Council. The resolution was ignored.
After General Iron reopened, a scrap pile fire occurred on site. That occurred just one week after RMG paid the city $18,000 to settle all of its outstanding municipal violations.
RELATED: General Iron’s $18K Fee For Years Of Pollution ‘Too Little, Too Late,’ Activists Say — And Secrecy From City Makes It Worse
Following the settlement, Lincoln Park neighbor Lara Compton told Block Club she feared for the health and safety of East Side neighbors.
“We have been filing complaints literally for years,” she said. “For an administration that ran on transparency, the lack of transparency for the North Siders’ fight to be able to breath fresh air, and the South Siders’ fight to stop the company from moving there … it has been anything but transparent.”
Other problems with General Iron include a 2015 fire, a 2016 city-ordered shutdown, a 2017 harassment lawsuit and a 2018 citation for excessive air emissions.
Company officials have contended operations do not endanger the lives of neighbors.
RMG Spokesman Randall Samborn has told Block Club the fluff is not hazardous, but has not disclosed what it contained or say whether the company has tested it.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, told told neighbors in August the fluff — which comes from the process of removing non-recyclable materials like dirt, glass, fibers and rubber from cars before shredding — is not proven to be hazardous.
An air quality monitoring device is currently being used by Hopkins and neighbors to monitor the PM2.5 in the air near General Iron. You can see the ratings here.
Without knowing what the substance contains, Block Club has been unable to independently confirm whether or not the dust contains toxins.
What’s next for ‘Southside Recycling’
Activists continue to fight the shredder’s move to East Side as RMG begins building out its facility.
RELATED: East Side Activists Bring Fight Against General Iron To Mayor Lightfoot’s Block: ‘We Need To Breathe Just Like Everybody Else’
The city’s public health department quietly issued the first of two required permits in September, which enabled RMG to start work on the new complex. But the city must approve an operating permit before any shredding can occur.
RMG applied for that permit in November, just one day after a federal housing official asked the city to withhold it until the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development could mediate an investigation into the city’s zoning policies. That investigation was triggered by General Iron’s agreement to leave Lincoln Park.
Health officials partially rejected the “incomplete” permit application last month and asked RMG to reapply in a Dec. 23 letter detailing nearly three dozen “deficiencies” in its submission.
You can read the full letter from city officials to RMG here. All documents related to RMG’s permitting process will be posted to the city’s website.
Public comments on RMG’s application can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org until Jan. 14.
If the city determines RMG’s revised application meets all rules and ordinances, officials would post a draft permit by Jan. 17 — 60 days after the application was posted online, according to permit guidelines. Another 30-day public comment period on the draft permit would follow.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.