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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Federal Judge Rules Against Southeast Siders, Won’t Force City To Deny Metal Scrapper’s Permit

Residents sued to try to block General Iron's owner from setting up shop in East Side as Southside Recycling, but the federal court ruling effectively ends the legal battle.

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
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CHICAGO – A federal judge will not force Chicago’s health department to deny a key permit to Southside Recycling, effectively ending a legal push to stop the controversial metal scrapper from opening in East Side.

U.S. District Court Judge Mary Rowland denied Southeast Side residents’ request to block Southside Recycling from receiving its operating permit to open at 11600 S. Burley Ave., attorneys for the residents announced Wednesday.

“The Court shares Plaintiffs’ and the City’s concerns … regarding the disproportionate burden borne by Black and Latinx communities from pollution, particularly during the pandemic,” Rowland said. “But considering existing precedent, Plaintiffs have not met their burden to show how they will prove the key elements of their case.”

The residents’ group said they will not continue the legal battle, so the ruling is the end of the line for the lawsuit, which alleged city officials “engaged in environmental racism” by quietly issuing the scrapper its first required permit last fall.

Residents and environmental activists have repeatedly pushed the Chicago Department of Public Health not to grant Southside Recycling’s final permit. Eleven people participated in a one-month hunger strike that ended March 4 with a rally near Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s home.

“While the fight won’t continue in this courtroom, it won’t stop because this injustice cannot stand,” attorney Victor Henderson said in a statement. “We urge anyone with a conscience on the City Council to join the citizens demanding an end to Chicago’s pattern of environmental racism and urge Mayor Lightfoot to deny [Southside Recycling’s] permit.”

The closure of defunct North Side scrapper General Iron was “potentially borne out of a desire to make the area surrounding the Lincoln Yards development even more desirable,” Rowland said.

But it does not prove the city and parent company Reserve Management Group were motivated by racism in planning to move General Iron’s operations to Southside Recycling, she said.

RMG owns Southside Recycling, General Iron and four other metal recyclers already operating at the Burley Avenue site.

If Southside Recycling is allowed to open, essential equipment and most employees from General Iron’s Lincoln Park operations would make the move to Burley Avenue. Adam Labkon, the former General Iron vice president whose family owned the company for generations, holds the largest individual stake in Southside Recycling at 20 percent.

Though the lawsuit is over, a federal fair housing investigation triggered by the city’s agreement to facilitate General Iron’s exit from Lincoln Park is ongoing.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration coordinated with RMG to relocate General Iron’s operations to the 10th Ward, and Lightfoot’s administration defended her predecessor’s actions, the Sun-Times reported Monday.

It is “admittedly unusual” that the city officials would sign such an agreement, but does not prove the plaintiffs’ claim that the city rubber-stamped the move to the Southeast Side, Rowland said. 

Another federal investigation into the state’s approval of Southside Recycling’s plans is suspended pending mediation.

Health department officials have not said when they’ll decide on Southside Recycling’s permit. The company has submitted two full applications and 1,100 pages of supplementary information since first applying Nov. 11.

Health officials cited nearly three dozen “deficiencies” in Southside Recycling’s first permit application, and requested the scrapper apply again. After company officials re-applied in January, the city made a last-minute request for more information last month.

Department guidelines say the city will decide whether a recycling facility’s application meets all necessary requirements within 60 days after an application is posted online. As of Wednesday, it’s been 90 days since Southside Recycling filed its second application, and 154 days since its initial attempt.

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