MCKINLEY PARK — Southwest Side residents and environmental advocates want Chicago leaders to impose stricter environmental reviews for potential contractors after a controversial company put in a $500 million bid to supply the city’s asphalt for the next five years.
MAT Asphalt, 2055 W. Pershing Road, submitted its bid earlier this month to supply city crews with materials for repaving streets, alleys and potholes. Neighbors, who have long protested the company and its environmental effects on the area, said they’re concerned MAT Asphalt will ramp up production if it wins the contract.
It would be environmental racism for the city to accept MAT’s bid, said Alfredo Romo, executive director for community group Neighbors for Environmental Justice.
“It’s relevant to us that Chicago puts heavy industry in Black and Brown neighborhoods,” Romo said at a press conference Tuesday. “The city must take responsibility for the environmental impact of its vendors.”
Romo and organizers urged city leaders to thoroughly review environmental compliance records for all vendors, consider the environmental impact of a vendor and allow neighbors to provide public comment on a potential contract.
“We can’t keep pretending the cost of air pollution in these communities is free,” Romo said. “We want a public comment period so the people who live in the affected areas get a chance to speak about what this contract will mean for them.”
City officials did not respond to a request for comment. There are four companies vying for the contract, according to city records.
Neighbors have opposed the MAT Asphalt plant since it came to the neighborhood in 2018, blindsiding many residents and public officials who said they were never told the company was coming to the area or applying for a pollution permit.
Hundreds of complaints about the plant have been filed with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the city’s health department. One of residents’ largest issues is the smell coming from the facility.
Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said she lives near the plant and the smell is the worst in the morning. She said she’s concerned the smell will last even longer during the day if the plant secures the city contract and extends its operations.
“It smells horribly in the neighborhood,” Wasserman said. “It’s quite scary to think about to know that potentially we could be smelling this all day, every day or all morning when we’re coming out.”
MAT Asphalt has denied the facility is a major polluter. The plant’s emissions are “one-twentieth of the allowable regulatory limit — and less than 1 percent of the permissible amount of particulate matter,” according to a MAT news release from earlier this year. This was based on tests conducted in 2021 and monitored by the Illinois EPA.
MAT Asphalt owner Michael Tadin Jr. said he is confident MAT has lower emissions than other asphalt plants in the city, and it’s farther away from parks and homes.
“Since 2018, we have given dozens of site tours to individuals and groups so that they can see our high-quality operation for themselves. That open-door, transparent policy will continue,” Tadin said.
Tadin said some of the odor complaints the plant has received “have bordered on targeted harassment.”
“Some of these complaints have come when we have not even been operating,” Tadin said.
Seven aldermen, led by Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), are backing the environmental organizers. The aldermen and dozens of community organizations signed a letter to the city’s Chief Procurement Officer Aileen Velasquez, asking the city to impose a higher level of scrutiny when evaluating the environmental implications of contractors.
Sigcho-Lopez also noted MAT Asphalt is appealing $4,000 worth of fines by the city, saying the “best predictor of future practices are current violations.”
“Given the city of Chicago’s documented pattern of putting industrial facilities in environmental justice communities, growing awareness of the danger of air pollution and the worsening of the global climate crisis, we believe this contract requires a degree of consideration, public involvement and environmental awareness proportional to its large size and long duration,” the letter reads.
“As more and more development comes to McKinley Park … there are more and more people being impacted by the air pollution from this plant,” Wasserman said. “If the asphalt produced is quantifiable, so is the estimated emissions.”
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