General Iron’s move: Lightfoot’s health officials issue mea culpa, say public should have been told before car shredder given permit


Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s health officials said Monday that they should have let the community know before issuing an air pollution control permit last month to General Iron — one of two permits needed to allow it to operate a metal shredder on the Southeast Side — considering the “sensitive” nature of the project which is opposed by many local groups.

“There should have been better engagement with the community on this issue,” the city’s health department said in a statement. The statement promised to “provide more prompt, thorough community notifications of new activity” in the future.

Community groups are fighting the relocation of the facility to South Burley Avenue and 116th Street from its longtime Lincoln Park location, saying it will add to pollution in an industrial area that’s already suffering from poor air quality. The groups say they just learned last week that the first of two required city permits was issued on September 15. General Iron’s owner needs one final approval from the city to begin operations after receiving an earlier clearance from the state.

The city’s admission follows criticism from community groups who also released a letter to the mayor Monday urging her to reject the car and metal shredder’s opening at the Burley location along the Calumet River.

So far, Lightfoot has suggested that a permit will have restrictions in place to reduce the amount of air pollution and noted that the business cannot operate in its new home until it “demonstrates compliance” with new rules for such businesses.

“Historically, air pollution control permits have been granted without a community review or notification,” the city statement said. “However, given the sensitive nature of this matter we recognize this was a clear missed opportunity for [the city] to keep the community informed of the process in a timely manner.”

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, whose 10th Ward includes the new General Iron site, said she was irritated that neither she nor her constituents were told about the permit application or approval until just last week. At a virtual town hall meeting in July, city health officials said that the permitting process would be transparent and would involve members of the community.

“We were promised a process when we had the town hall meeting,” Garza said in an interview Monday. “I don’t know who dropped the ball, but people deserve to know what’s going on.”

Garza said residents should have input on the permit process but said she believes the facility will eventually open. She noted the site is currently being built as an expansion to an existing operation of General Iron’s owner Reserve Management Group. Equipment from the North Side will be moved to the new location.

A spokesman for Reserve Management deferred questions about permitting to the city.

Earlier in the day Monday, a coalition of social and community activists chided the mayor.

“We call upon the mayor to make sure the community is engaged,” said Sheilah Garland-Olaniran, a representative of the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign.

As the fight over General Iron’s move to the Southeast Side has heated up, organizers say they’ve built a coalition of more than 40 groups who are opposed.

“The City of Chicago and Mayor Lightfoot need to build a better infrastructure in terms of process,” said Rose Joshua, president of the NAACP Chicago Southside. She called the facility’s move to the South Side “a violation of our civil rights,” echoing a complaint community groups filed with federal officials in August.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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