Skip to contents
South Chicago, East Side

City Delays Decision On Permit For Controversial Southeast Side Metal Scrapper

Southside Recycling twice has applied for a permit to open at 11600 S. Burley Ave. City officials now say they want to assess the environmental effects of the proposed facility and four others already operating at the same site.

The sun sets over the planned location for Southside Recycling, 11600 S. Burley Ave. on Feb. 22, 2021. Four Reserve Management Group recycling facilities currently operate at the East Side site.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
  • Credibility:

EAST SIDE — Controversial plans for a Southeast Side metal scrapper hit another setback Monday, as the city postponed its decision on whether the facility may open and made a last-minute push to also consider the environmental impact of four other scrappers already operating at the same site.

Southside Recycling seeks city approval to move essential equipment and employees from defunct Lincoln Park scrapper General Iron to 11600 S. Burley Ave. Southside Recycling and General Iron’s assets are both owned by Reserve Management Group.

Four other RMG facilities — Reserve Marine Terminals, South Shore Recycling, Napuck Salvage of Waupaca and Regency Technologies — already operate where Southside Recycling seeks to open.

The Chicago Department of Public Health is seeking “additional information that will enable us to properly assess the relationship between, and the potential cumulative impact of, all Reserve Management Group operations” at the East Side site, according to a letter sent to Southside Recycling leaders Monday.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s review of Southside Recycling’s plans determined the five facilities “constitute a single source for air permitting purposes,” and the city will also consider their cumulative environmental impact, city environmental engineer Renante Marante wrote.

Marante’s letter does not specify what information the city is seeking from Southside Recycling. A meeting between the health department and company officials is set for Thursday “to review and discuss the items necessary for CDPH to evaluate the application.”

The health department will pause Southside Recycling’s permit review until the new information is received, and “until these items are resolved, the applicant is not authorized to operate a class IVB large recycling facility, including any storage of recyclables,” Marante said.

Southside Recycling has applied for its operating permit twice — once in November, then again in January after health officials found nearly three dozen “deficiencies” in its first application. Monday marked the final day of the city’s 60-day review period for the refiled application.

RMG spokesperson Randall Samborn declined to answer questions by phone Monday evening. In a statement he said air dispersion modeling performed for state regulators shows all five facilities would remain a “minor source” of emissions “regardless of the flow of recyclable material among the operations,” even if Southside Recycling was handling the maximum amount of metal allowed under its state permit, he said.

“The IEPA evaluated metallic [hazardous air pollutants] from the four existing RMG operations together with Southside Recycling’s projected metallic [pollutant] emissions and did not find any potential concern,” Samborn said.

You can read the city’s letter to Southside Recycling in full here.

Health officials will announce a timeline for reviewing the new information and opportunities for public comment after Thursday’s meeting with Southside Recycling, health department spokesperson Andrew Buchanan said.

The health department “is committed to working with the community and acting within the full scope of our authority to properly apply our new Rules for Large Recycling Facilities, to address health and environmental considerations related to this – and any other – permit application,” Buchanan said in a statement.

Southeast Side residents and environmental activists have organized against Southside Recycling’s plans for months, culminating in a month-long hunger strike that ended March 4. Strikers and their supporters vowed to continue pressuring the city to deny the company’s permit.

The city formally agreed to help transition General Iron’s operations to the Burley Avenue site under Mayor Lori Lightfoot in September 2019, an agreement that’s triggered a federal fair housing investigation and a federal lawsuit.

The health department quietly issued RMG’s first required permit in September, breaking health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady’s promise to notify the public when Southside Recycling submitted its application.

Lightfoot, city lawyers and RMG officials have denied General Iron is moving to the Southeast Side — despite the wording of the company’s agreement with Lightfoot’s administration, the minority stake in Southside Recycling held by General Iron’s former owners, and the move of equipment “most critical” to General Iron’s operations to Burley Avenue.

Buchanan, a city spokesperson, even referenced “this letter to General Iron” as he announced the health department’s request for more information Monday in an email with the subject line “General Iron.”

The defunct General Iron site at 1909 N. Clifton Ave. neighbors the $6 billion Lincoln Yards megadevelopment.

The proposed Southside Recycling site lies within a majority-Latino “area of environmental justice concern” for state environmental regulators. It’s less than a mile from George Washington elementary and high schools and Rowan Park.

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.