EAST SIDE — A federal judge could make a “key and critical” decision as soon as next month in a lawsuit aiming to stop the city’s health department from allowing a metal scrapper to open on the Southeast Side.
U.S. District Court Judge Mary Rowland said at a Monday hearing she expects to rule in early April on Southeast Side residents’ request to temporarily stop planned scrapper Southside Recycling from receiving a key city permit. Rowland’s final ruling may differ from her upcoming decision on the preliminary injunction residents are requesting.
Neighbors filed the lawsuit in in October, alleging city officials “engaged in environmental racism” by quietly issuing the scrapper its first required permit last fall. They’re seeking to block the city from allowing Southside Recycling to open at 11600 S. Burley Ave.
The planned Southside Recycling site is less than a mile from George Washington elementary and high schools in East Side, a majority-Latino community that has been plagued by pollution.
Essential equipment and employees from the now-defunct General Iron operation will move to Southside Recycling. Both are owned by the same company: Reserve Management Group.
Rowland’s upcoming decision “wouldn’t be the final ruling,” but it would be a “key and critical ruling” for both Southeast Siders and the city, attorney for the residents Victor Henderson said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, the city and Reserve Management Group mostly reiterated their long-standing arguments during Monday’s 90-minute hearing.
It’s “way off base” to allege environmental racism in the city’s handling of Southside Recycling, as the Southeast Side was industrial before its current demographics, city lawyer Andrew Mine said.
“The history is very complicated,” Mine said. “Who has lived there and at what time is very complicated. But the industry has been there a long time, including when it was a very white area.”
There’s no explicit discrimination mentioned in the agreement in which city officials agreed to help “transition” General Iron’s operations to the Southeast Side, plaintiffs’ attorney Christopher Carmichael said. But racism is “very rarely” written explicitly into policy decisions, he said.
“We think if you step back and look at this, there’s a pattern that emerges: taking industrial uses from majority-white communities and pushing them down to minority communities,” Carmichael said.
City officials said in earlier court proceedings they would not issue Southside Recycling’s operating permit before March 22.
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