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South Chicago, East Side

Controversial Southside Recycling Permit Decision Delayed Again Amid COVID Struggles, Health Dept. Says

A COVID-19 outbreak on a city research team and "COVID-related lab slowdowns" led to the delay, the city said. A permit decision is now expected in February at the earliest.

The planned location of the controversial metal scrapper Southside Recycling, 11600 S. Burley Ave. in the South Deering neighborhood of Chicago on Jan. 3, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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EAST SIDE — The city’s health department has delayed its decision on a permit for a controversial metal scrapper until at least February.

Reserve Management Group has twice applied to open the proposed Southside Recycling facility at 11600 S. Burley Ave. in East Side. If approved, essential equipment and most employees from the troubled General Iron operation in Lincoln Park would move to Southside Recycling.

Lightfoot paused the permit process in May after U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan said the Southside Recycling proposal “raised significant civil rights concerns.” At Regan’s request, the city analyzed the health impacts of allowing the scrapper to open in an environmental justice community.

Two meetings have been held since Nov. 4 to explain the health analysis and gather more input from residents. A third and final meeting was initially scheduled to take place this month, but has been delayed until February due to coronavirus, officials said.

“Because of delays caused by a COVID outbreak among the team assisting with on-site research and COVID-related lab slowdowns, we now expect to hold the meeting in February,” health department spokesperson Ivonne Sambolin said Wednesday.

The city “intends to provide at least two weeks’ notice” before the final meeting, Sambolin said. Officials promised “to provide more notice and clarity” after schedule and venue changes caused “confusion and challenges” ahead of last month’s meeting.

The health department is “committed to completing [the health analysis] in a timely manner,” Sambolin said. A permit decision will be made after the final meeting is held.

It’s been 14 months since Southside Recycling’s initial application, which the city rejected as “incomplete,” and one full year since the facility’s second attempt.

Health department guidelines say the city will decide on a recycling facility’s application within 60 days after the application is posted online. Under that timeframe, a decision was expected last March.

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. Residents also held a month-long hunger strike against the facility last year.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Illinois) called on the city to deny permits for Southside Recycling and Sims Metal Management in Pilsen, saying the companies have “abysmal track records” relating to environmental concerns and community safety.

“I join my constituents in calling for a resounding rejection of the applications for new permits,” García said in a statement. “Our communities deserve better, particularly Latino and Black residents who experience higher rates of respiratory illness from polluting facilities.”

Two members of the Chicago Board of Health — Carmen Vergara and Dr. Steven Rothschild — asked health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady to deny the operating permit at a board meeting last month.

Southside Recycling is already built and has been ready to open since early 2021, company spokesperson Randall Samborn said last month. Reserve Management Group owns four recycling facilities at the same site.

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