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Lincoln Park, Old Town

General Iron Tries To Reopen In Lincoln Park After City Rejects South Side Permit, But Officials Say No Way

"I don't see that as a possibility," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said after Reserve Management Group, which owns General Iron, applied for permits to reopen in Lincoln Park.

Scrap metal is brought to General Iron Industries’ Lincoln Park facility on Friday, August 14, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN PARK — General Iron’s parent company is looking to reopen parts of its Lincoln Park car and metal shredding operation more than a year after shutting down its business in the neighborhood and weeks after the company was denied a permit to open a metal scrapper on the Southeast Side.

The city already rejected General Iron’s plans last month, according to letters from the Chicago Department of Public Health provided to Block Club. The company had applied to renew its recycling facility permits for two parcels of land at 1909 N. Clifton Ave. and a third at 1800 N. Kingsbury Ave.

Rather than apply for a “large recycling facility” permit — which would have triggered the same review process parent company Reserve Management Group underwent for its failed Southside Recycling proposal — General Iron attempted to renew its old permits, which fell under a different category.

Each of the three sites would take in no more than 999 tons of scrap per day, company officials claimed on their applications. That’s one ton below the limit that would have forced the sites to comply with the more stringent rules.

City health officials rejected the company’s claim about its capacity, noting General Iron was previously allowed to accept “well more than 1,000 tons per day.” The renewals were also denied because previous zoning approvals for the sites had lapsed in the year since General Iron closed, and because the facility would shred cars and car parts, officials said.

“In any event, regardless of the total capacity … the site would be a large recycling facility, and the application must therefore comply with the [large recycling facility] rules,” environmental engineer Renante Marante wrote.

Reserve Management Group, the owner of General Iron, appealed the city’s rejection and is requesting a hearing with a city administrative judge, officials said. No date for that hearing has been set, a health department spokesperson said.

A RMG spokesperson declined comment. The health department also declined to answer questions about the issue, citing pending litigation.

Asked about General Iron’s efforts to return to Lincoln Park during an unrelated news conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot pointed to the many nuisance complaints neighbors made when it was in operation.

“I don’t see that as a possibility,” Lightfoot said. “General Iron has had a long, checkered history in Lincoln Park. I think people in that neighborhood have expressed themselves quite clearly, so I don’t see that as a real, viable option.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward encompasses the Lincoln Park site, gave a “hard no” to General Iron’s attempts to reopen.

“The city’s justification for denying those permits is clear, and I don’t see any circumstances under which the community would welcome the return of General Iron given its history of pouring toxic pollutants into the community,” Hopkins said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
General Iron Industries Inc, 1909 N. Clifton Ave., in Lincoln Park on Dec. 2, 2021.

Before General Iron closed in January 2021, Lincoln Park neighbors had long complained about the health risks posed by having a metal shredder in their community.

Their complaints ranged from fluff, a substance that routinely coated the neighborhood’s sidewalks, roads, porches and playgrounds, to odors from the largely open-air operation.

Other problems with General Iron’s operation included a 2020 explosion that forced its temporary closure, followed later in the year by a scrap fire; a 2018 citation for excessive air emissions; a 2017 harassment lawsuit; a 2016 city-ordered shutdown and a 2015 fire.

These issues have subsided since the Lincoln Park plant officially closed, Hopkins said.

“That’s all the evidence I need to justify why an industrial metal scrapper should not be operating in our neighborhoods,” Hopkins said.

The city’s decision to reject the Lincoln Park permit applications came a month after the Chicago health department refused to grant the final permit needed for Reserve Management Group to move General Iron’s assets and employees to a new metal scrapper in East Side.

Reserve Management group spent $80 million in anticipation of the permit, which would have allowed them to open the Southside Recycling facility at its Burley Avenue campus, where the Ohio-based firm operates four other recycling facilities.

Southeast Siders resisted plans for the facility since General Iron’s plans to leave Lincoln Park were finalized in 2019. They filed federal civil rights complaintssued city officials and held numerous rallies and protests in an effort to block Southside Recycling’s operation. Several residents held a month-long hunger strike against the facility last year.

The city rejected plans for the Southeast Side operation after a city health impact assessment found the scrapper would have added to the neighborhood’s air pollution; negatively affected residents’ mental health; continued the city’s trend of concentrating heavy industry on the Southeast Side; and risked bringing water and soil pollution, explosions, fires and noise to the area.

Reserve Management Group has also appealed that permit denial and has an administrative hearing for the case scheduled April 21, according to the Sun-Times, which was first to report on the new permit applications.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Community members, leaders and activists gathered outside City Hall to call on Mayor Lightfoot to deny the permit to move General Iron to the Southeast Side on the 20th day of the hunger strike on Feb. 23, 2021.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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