Judge denies temporary restraining order after construction halted at Brighton Park migrant camp

Chicago migrant crisis: Judge orders city to keep residents informed before work on 38th and California site resumes

Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Judge denies TRO after construction halted at SW Side migrant camp
A judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order sought by residents after construction was halted at the Brighton Park migrant camp site.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Our coverage on this topic has moved here.

Construction work has been halted for a migrant base camp in Brighton Park, Gov. JB Pritzker's office said Monday.

The state ordered the temporary halt in light of an 800-page environmental report released by the city late Friday that details the site's known issues and the steps taken so far to make it safe for people to live on.

"We have temporarily paused construction on the site pending IEPA review of the environmental study," the governor's office said.

The city had previously said soil with higher that acceptable mercury levels was removed and properly disposed of. It will allow a full review of an environmental study done at the site.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has not yet given the green light to go ahead with construction on the site, a would-be winterized base camp for migrants, located near 38th Street and California Avenue. If it doesn't, the governor's office said the state will not move forward with the project.

"The IEPA is reviewing that. There's a pause in place pending their review which will come out sometime very soon," Pritzker said.

Meanwhile, residents in the area are still not happy after a judge refused to issue the temporary restraining order they were seeking.

Ricardo Palacios is among a group of plaintiffs who have been calling for a temporary restraining order. Hearing the case in court on Monday, a judge ruled that because of the work stoppage, a TRO was no longer necessary.

"The city has been lying to us from day one, and they still are," Palacios said. "They don't care how badly contaminated it is. They're going to do it, no ifs and buts about it."

READ MORE | City's goal to get Chicago migrants out of police stations by Friday likely to be unmet

Watching the proceedings, which were held via Zoom, was a small group of residents who gathered inside a Chinatown office.

"We are a little bit frustrated, but at the same time, we are encouraged that the judge urged city to be more transparent," said Brighton Park resident Michael Lin. "We hope the result will kill this project, because we think it's unfair to put migrants on a site that has an industrial history."

Mayor Brandon Johnson's office has reiterated its position that most of the remediation efforts, including the removal of harmful chemicals such as mercury, are complete and that "the site is safe for temporary residential use."

"It is a cleaner site. It is a safer site than before the city was involved," said Deputy Corporation Counsel for city of Chicago Andrew Worseck.

Attorney Frank Avila Jr., who represents the plaintiffs, cast doubt on those statements insisting, "They did not make it safer. Merely digging down and adding gravel is not environmental remediation."

In the end, the judge ordered the city to keep residents informed before work on the site resumes.

On Monday, the city released a statement, saying, "As reported last week, the City of Chicago's Department of Assets, Information, and Services contracted Terracon Consultants, Inc. to conduct an environmental investigation at the 3710 South California Avenue site. The sample results were compared to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's remediation standards for residential use. According to the report, soil with mercury levels was identified at one location and was removed and properly disposed offsite at a landfill, and with the limited soil removal and placement and maintenance of the barrier, the site is safe for temporary residential use.

"Further base camp construction and remediation of an additional 1 ft. x 1 ft. x 1 ft. area of the 9.5-acre site will continue per the timeline set by the State of Illinois. There is no construction or remediation scheduled at this time. The City will share assessment of subsequent remediation as it becomes available."