Little Village residents present their demands to Ald. Michael D. Rodriguez (22nd) on Feb. 23, 2023 after the leaking of the IG report of the botched Hilco smokestack demolition. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

LITTLE VILLAGE — The report detailing the negligence of city officials that led to a botched implosion of a coal smokestack in Little Village has been translated to Spanish. 

The full 98-page Inspector General report and a summary of it are on the 22nd Ward website

Edith Tovar, an organizer for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization who helped advocate for the report to be translated, said informing Spanish-speaking neighbors about the report helps hold city officials accountable. 

“At the very least, it provides context to how City Hall functions and how it shouldn’t be functioning,” Tovar said. 

Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ April 2020 implosion at the old Crawford coal plant, 3501 S. Pulaski Road, covered Little Village in a thick cloud of dust and continues to be flashpoint in the fight over environmental racism on the Southwest Side.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners was allowed to resume demolishing the old Crawford Coal Plant in Little Village before notifying residents, leaked emails show. Credit: Mauricio Peña

In February, Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), whose ward covers Little Village, said his office reached out to independent firms to translate the Inspector General’s summary and full report. The translation work took over a month to complete, Rodriguez said. 

“The longest part to get it done wasn’t us being asked or us agreeing to do it” but rather “finding someone who [could] actually do it,” Rodriguez said.

“Once we’re asked by the community to do it, we went right to work to put [it] out,” Rodriguez said.

The translated summary became accessible on the ward’s website in March and the full report was made available online in May, Rodriguez said.

“We wanted to get it out as quickly as possible so we started with the summary report first,” he said.

Rodriguez’s office has sent out an email newsletter with a link to the Spanish reports and taken physical copies to tabling events. Still, getting the word out to the neighborhood, with its 84 percent Latino and 47 percent immigrant population, has fallen mostly on the community’s shoulders, Tovar said.

The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization is working with two of the city’s public libraries, the Little Village branch, 2311 S. Kedzie Ave., and the Toman Branch, 2708 S. Pulaski Road, to pass out physical copies of the full bilingual report. 

The environmental justice organization has also let Spanish- and English-speaking neighbors know where to access the report through its Girasol newsletter. You can sign up for it here.

Making the information easily accessible is a way for residents to have agency over the neighborhoods they live in, Tovar said. 

“It empowers the community. It makes them ask more questions,” Tovar said. “I think folks are even able to quote the report and say [to city officials] ‘This is y’all and we’re telling you to do better.’”

Amidst the tragedy, Tovar said the experience has connected her with New Jersey residents worried about a similar smokestack implosion. Tovar said she was able to offer her advice on how to demand justice.

“In us being able to share our story, they were able to stop that implosion,” she said. “What happened in Little Village is preventing other communities from going through this disaster.”

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