EAST SIDE — The parent company of defunct metal scrapper General Iron invited city officials to tour its proposed Southeast Side facility this week, as the years-long controversy over the scrapper’s move to the area nears a resolution.
If Reserve Management Group receives a city permit, the company would operate most of General Iron’s assets as Southside Recycling. The proposed facility is at 11600 S. Burley Ave. in East Side.
Reserve Management Group officials asked Mayor Lori Lightfoot; city health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady and Michael Regan, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to visit Southside Recycling in a letter Wednesday.
CEO Steve Joseph and Chief Operating Officer Hal Tolin sent the letter days after Arwady announced a permit decision is expected by the end of January.
“In spite of the significant negative attention that media has given this story, none of you have felt it necessary to actually visit our facility,” Joseph and Tolin wrote. “… We hope that each of you will finally take the time to come see what we have built so that we might be granted a fair chance to set the record straight.”
Lightfoot paused the permit process in May after Regan said the Southside Recycling plans “raised significant civil rights concerns” and urged the city to analyze health impacts of the scrapper’s operations.
Two community meetings have been held since Nov. 4 to explain the health analysis and gather more input from residents. A final meeting is set for January.
The health department promised “to provide more notice and clarity” for the upcoming session. Schedule and venue changes before last week’s meeting caused “confusion and challenges” for attendees, a spokesperson said.
Officials have not responded to the company’s previous requests to give a tour of the site, spokesperson Randall Samborn said. He cited a June Twitter thread and “several direct written and indirect verbal invitations” to Arwady and her staff.
The EPA “has received the letter and will respond accordingly,” spokesperson Timothy Carroll said. Regan toured the Southeast Side in May while in Chicago to meet with politicians and community leaders.
The agency’s investigation into the Illinois EPA’s approval of Southside Recycling’s plans is suspended pending mediation. Carroll declined to provide updates on mediation discussions.
Senior health department staff have toured Southside Recycling as part of the city’s health analysis, spokesperson James Scalzitti said. He did not answer whether Arwady herself would tour before a permit decision is made, nor clarify what — aside from the analysis — remains to be done in order to complete the permit review.
A spokesperson for Lightfoot did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.
Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) texted Lightfoot in April of 2020 that Southside Recycling’s critics “don’t play well with others [so] f– them,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Lightfoot responded that she is “riding with [Sadlowski Garza] til the end.”
More than 1,300 supporters co-signed RMG’s letter, including company employees and others in the recycling and waste management industry, Samborn said.
Samborn did not share how many signatures were from Southeast Siders or Chicagoans, nor their affiliations with companies or organizations aside from Reserve Management Group.
“There are numerous other businesses represented here,” Samborn said. They include “individual suppliers, middlemen brokers of metal recyclables that are vendors, and suppliers to this operation who are feeling the economic consequences of the depressed metal market in Chicago from the lack of competition.”
Southeast Siders have filed federal civil rights complaints, pressured city officials and held numerous rallies and protests in an effort to block Southside Recycling’s operation.
Four activists were arrested, cited and released last Friday, as dozens marched in heavy rain to demand the permit’s denial.
Residents also held a month-long hunger strike against Southside Recycling earlier this year.
Two members on the Chicago Board of Health called on Arwady and the city to deny the operating permit at a board meeting Wednesday.
They are Carmen Vergara, chief operating officer of Esperanza Health Centers, and Dr. Steven Rothschild, family medicine chair at Rush University Medical Center.
“I know [the health] department is robustly committed to equity and environmental justice,” said Rothschild, who, alongside hundreds of individuals and advocacy groups, signed a letter in March demanding the permit’s denial.
“But individual decisions do matter … I really want to put my voice out there and say I hope that we will find a way to seek an alternative and block this approval,” he said.
Southside Recycling is already built on Reserve Management Group’s Burley Avenue campus and has been ready to open since early this year, Samborn said. Reserve Management Group owns four recycling facilities at the same site.
Federal and county judges have dismissed lawsuits from Reserve Management Group seeking to force the city to issue Southside Recycling’s permit. The company is appealing the county court’s ruling, Samborn said.
City officials allowed the company to construct the facility before receiving a permit, but it can’t operate without one. Reserve Management Group leaders said they’ve spent $80 million on upgrades and construction, expecting to gain approval.
Southside Recycling has twice applied for the permit. Health department guidelines say the city will decide on a recycling facility’s application within 60 days after the application is posted online.
It’s been 13 months since Southside Recycling’s initial application, which the city rejected as “incomplete,” and 11 months since the facility’s second attempt.
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