LITTLE VILLAGE — Three city employees should face consequences — and one should even lose their job — over the handling of a smokestack implosion that left Little Village covered in dust amid a pandemic, the city’s inspector general said in his latest report.
In spring 2020, city officials approved permits for Hilco Redevelopment Partners to implode a century-old smokestack at the old Crawford Coal Plant in Little Village.
Activists urged the Mayor’s Office to stop the demolition amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it moved forward anyway. Neighbors received little-to-no notice before Hilco and its contractors imploded the smokestack, which blanketed homes and streets in dust and debris on April 11, 2020.
In a report released Monday, former Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson recommended discipline against two Department of Buildings officials who were involved in the permitting and planning process for the implosion. A third official, with the Department of Public Health, should also be disciplined and possibly fired, the report said.
Ferguson’s full investigation into the implosion was not published. The Sun-Times reports the findings were sent to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office in order to give the city a “chance to respond and either accept the recommendations or propose its own course of action.”
For two years, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization had urged the city and state to provide more oversight during the demolition of the old Crawford Coal plant. After activists called for more regulations and air monitors the summer before the implosion, city officials told residents to close their windows and doors during demolition days, said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the organization.
Following the incident, Lightfoot issued a stop-work order and a six-month moratorium on implosions across the city, calling the implosion an utter failure. The city fined the developer $68,000.
Following public outcry, the city approved increased fines for environmental polluters. It also passed a law to revoke tax incentives given to industries that betray the public’s trust. The law is not retroactive so it can’t be used to punish Hilco, which already received $19.7 million in tax breaks to build a Target distribution center on the site, which opened in August.
The city is also in the process of bolstering implosion regulations which would include notifications to residents ahead of a planned implosion.
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