Mayor Lightfoot announces actions taken to address Little Village coal plant smokestack demolition

ByJesse Kirsch WLS logo
Friday, April 17, 2020
Little Village Crawford Coal Plant implosion: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announces actions taken to address smokestack demolition
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Mayor Lori Lightfoot is taking action to address the botched demolition of a smokestack in Little Village last weekend.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot is taking action to address a smokestack demolition that left a Southwest Side community in the dust last weekend.

Residents in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood are concerned about the air they're breathing, and fear it's a public health hazard.

Lightfoot assured residents Friday that no asbestos was found in the air after the botched smokestack implosion.

The mayor said the developer of the site, Hilco Redevelopment Partners, and its subcontractors promised ahead of time they would meet demolition standards. But that didn't happen Saturday, when dust floated beyond the former Crawford Power Generating Station site and swirled over nearby homes.

According to the city, air tests so far show safe levels of asbestos.

"We will no longer simply trust or operate on the honor system," Lightfoot said.

But some Little Village residents said the mayor's after-the-fact finger pointing is inexcusable.

"There's a long track records that something like this could happen, but the city, local aldermen decided to ignore and they took Hilco's word for it," said resident Lucky Camargo.

Camargo, with community group Mi Villita, said for months, residents have raised concerns about the project, and their worries were ignored.

Mayor Lightfoot acknowledged the city needs an updated permitting process.

While that and the developer's plans are under review, the city issued citations and halted all further implosions for 60 days.

Hilco said it has agreed to city requests, including street cleaning and handing out thousands of masks to residents.

"The health, safety and welfare of the Little Village community is of paramount concern to us as we work toward completing this project," the developer said.

Upon an initial review of the event, the city has issued 16 citations holding the developer and its general contractors, MCM and CDI, accountable for the incident. The parties owe up to $68,000 in fines, not including any other city claims relating to costs incurred by departments in responding to the incident.

As part of the new permit development process, led by the Department of Buildings and the Department of Public Health alongside the acting chief sustainability officer, city agencies will identify best practices from around the country, while soliciting input from residents, community groups, developers and elected officials. The city will also require the Chicago Fire Department hazardous material 511 unit to monitor air quality before, during and after an implosion, conduct a dry run of the implosion event with all contractors and regulatory agencies, prepare a dust mitigation plan tailored to the implosion event and engage in a robust multilingual community outreach plan leading up to the implosion.

Since Saturday, the city has taken multiple steps to hold the developer accountable and directed the developer to take swift action to clean and remediate the impacted area around the Crawford site. The developer has agreed to the following actions:

  • Full cooperation with the city of Chicago's inquiries for additional information regarding the demolition of the site;
  • private street sweeping in the surrounding area following the implosion;
  • coordination with Alderman Michael Rodriguez to travel throughout the residential streets around the perimeter to assess the damage and begin to compile a list of mitigation needs;
  • reimbursement to the city of Chicago for additional street sweeping measures;
  • deploying personnel door to door to discuss clean up needs with residents, and perform remedial services, free of charge, including window and vehicle washing; and
  • distribution of thousands of masks to the community.
  • In addition to those efforts, the city also requested additional measures be taken out of an abundance of caution to ensure the health and safety of the surrounding community members. This included:

  • expanded mitigation efforts to include 28th to 33rd, Pulaski to Lawndale, as well as 28th to 31st Pulaski to Keeler;
  • dust remediation efforts that reflect Chicago Department of Public Health guidance;
  • distribution of HEPA air furnace filters; and
  • ongoing street sweeping as requested by the city of Chicago.
  • A class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Little Village residents after the smokestack was demolished.

    Hilco has apologized for causing "anxiety and fear" after it failed to follow a plan it gave city officials that would've prevented the situation. They expected the implosion experts to use dust mitigation with water before, during and after the demolition.

    The company said it is fully cooperating with the city while it investigates and is implementing "a thorough corrective action plan."

    READ: Full statement from Hilco on Little Village implosion

    Roberto Perez, CEO of Hilco acknowledged concerns were even further elevated given the implosion took place during the coronavirus pandemic.


    "We understand, apologize to and sympathize with the Little Village community," Perez said in a statement. "The health, safety and welfare of the local community is of paramount concern to Hilco Redevelopment Partners as we work toward completing this project and driving economic viability to the community."

    Videos and photos that circulated Saturday on social media showed a tower falling to the ground, releasing a heavy cloud of dust that eventually seeped into residential areas. One photographer described the scene as "like something out of the movies."

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.