Members from the Little Village Environmental Organization, Mi Villita Neighbors and El Foro del Pueblo denounced the opening of a controversial Target warehouse and called for a moratorium on logistics facilities at a July 2021 press conference. Credit: Mauricio Peña/Block Club Chicago

LITTLE VILLAGE — As Hilco Redevelopment Partners is set to cut the ribbon on a controversial Target warehouse, nearly a dozen Little Village activists and neighbors denounced the project and demanded a moratorium on similar facilities opening on the South and West sides.

Members of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Mi Villita Neighbors and El Foro Del Pueblo protested Monday, criticizing the nearly $20 million in tax breaks Hilco received for the Exchange 55 project, which will house a Target distribution center at 3501 S. Pulaski Road.

With logistics facilities and industrial warehouses concentrated on the South and West sides, these businesses are creating a “disproportionate burden of air pollution, traffic congestion and damage to infrastructure” from truck traffic in the area, said Jose Acosta, environmental planning and research organizer for Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. 

There needs to be a comprehensive study conducted to evaluate the environmental impact diesel traffic has on these neighborhoods, he said.

“This has been an issue for years and has contributed significantly to the poor air quality in these communities, which is among the worst in the state,” Acosta said. “And yet the city continues to approve without any consideration to how they will impact the community already suffering from poor air quality and traffic congestion.”

The group reiterated its previous demands for Target to break its lease and for Hilco to donate the site to the city so it can be turned into a large-scale growing facility, market, commercial kitchen and a workforce training site.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners is set to cut the ribbon on the 1.3 million square foot facility Exchange 55 on Tuesday. Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicaog

Hilco pitched neighbors on a plan for a 1-million-square-foot facility to replace the former Crawford coal plant in 2018. But many neighbors opposed it, saying it would exacerbate the diesel traffic and congestion in Little Village.

Despite community opposition, the plan was approved and received $19.7 million in tax subsidies from city officials. 

Demolition was shut down at least twice after a worker died falling 40 feet to his death in December 2019 and when Hilco and its contractors imploded the plant’s 378-foot-tall smokestack, covering the neighborhood in a cloud of debris at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The botched implosion resulted in $68,000 fines from the city and another $370,000 in a settlement with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

Hilco will open the warehouse Tuesday during a private ceremony. 

A drone video showed how the dust cloud spread from the Crawford demolition site and descended onto Little Village homes. Credit: Alejandro Reyes/YouTube

During a news conference Monday, community members and activists were drowned out by the sound of diesel trucks passing through the corridor. The group recently did its own study to count how many trucks go through the 31st Street and Pulaski Road intersection, a few blocks north of the Target center.

Karen Canales Salas, education coordinator for Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said nearly two diesel trucks pass through the intersection every minute 7-11 a.m., and one truck passes each minute 3-5 p.m.

Salas said there needs to be more oversight for logistics facilities to protect overly burdened communities on the South and West sides.

“There are so many trucks in Little Village emitting dangerous amounts of particulate matter into our air,” Salas said. “Enough is enough.”

Joselyn Vasquez, an intern with the group, said residents don’t want to see increases in diesel trucks and pollution.

Organizers also urged city leaders to examine the air conditions and evaluate the harmful impacts of diesel pollution.

“The city has failed environmental communities time and time again. It is time for a change. It is time for the city to do all that it can to protect its people from environmental pollution,” Acosta said. “This issue is larger than the Hilco development, but Hilco is an example of how our community is being sacrificed in the name of economic development in the city.”

A representative from Hilco could not be immediately reached for comment.

RELATED: City Repeatedly Breaks Promises To South Siders When Approving Polluters And Demolitions

Read all of Block Club’s coverage on Hilco here.

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Pilsen, Little Village and West Loop reporterrnrnmauricio@blockclubchi.orgnnPilsen, Little Village and West Loop Twitter @MauricioPena