CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday admitted city officials “should have done a better job” notifying people who live in the Little Village neighborhood of plans to resume demolition work at an old power plant, weeks after a botched smokestack implosion sent a huge plume of dust through the community.
Late Thursday night the mayor delayed plans to tear down a turbine building at the site of the former coal-fired Crawford Generating Station at 35th and Pulaski, after protesters expressed outrage at the lack of notice from the city.
The protesters took their message directly to the mayor’s home in Logan Square, prompting police to provide extra security Thursday night.
Protesters also accused the mayor of lying about putting demolition on hold for six months at the power plant after Hilco Redevelopment Partners botched the implosion of the facility’s old smoke stack on April 11. Lightfoot has said the developer was supposed to use high-powered water cannons to spray down the smokestack to prevent dust from blowing onto nearby homes, but they apparently failed to do so.
On Monday, Lightfoot said an inspection of the facility determined the turbine building is in dangerously bad condition, and needs to come down. She said the city did “extensive outreach” in the community before allowing Hilco to prepare demolishing the turbine building on Thursday, but acknowledged they should have done more.
“Certainly, we should have done a better job last week. We are trying to address that shortcoming now. We’ve had a lot of engagement with electeds, with environmental groups, and just ordinary residents of Little Village. That work continues this week,” she said.
As for the protesters marching outside her home, Lightfoot said that “goes with the territory” of being mayor, but she said the protesters who showed up at her house weren’t taking proper precautions to protect their own health from COVID-19.
“People have a right to exercise their First Amendment rights, and I understand that people at times are going to want to bring their concerns directly to the mayor. So people coming to my house, it’s just part of what the democratic process is about” she said. “Obviously I want them to do it in a way that is compliant with social distancing, which I don’t think happened. It doesn’t make any sense that when you’re exercising your First Amendment rights, you’re also then at the same time putting yourself at risk. But that’s something that they have to determine on their own.”
Lightfoot was asked how she would convince residents in Little Village that their health won’t be jeopardized by additional demolition, when they already feel they’ve been deceived.
“This is a community that really has felt disrespected, lack of resources, in the middle of a very difficult and challenging environmental problem for decades, and we have to recognize that, I have to recognize it, and I do,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to erase decades of feeling in one moment, that’s not going to be possible.”
The mayor said the turbine building is in such dangerous condition that the city has close part of Pulaski Road next to the site to protect passing motorists.
“This is a building and buildings that are structurally unsound,” she said. “It’s not safe for anybody, and so while we absolutely must continue to educate residents, demonstrate to them visually as well as orally what the danger is, those buildings must come down. Now were’ going to do it step-by-step, but they’re not safe, and we have to bring them down.”
Lightfoot did not indicate how soon demolition would proceed.
Hilco was fined approximately $68,000 for the botched demolition of the smokestack, and weeks later was hit with new fines of up to $2,500 for a problem that mistakenly sent runoff water into the Sanitary and Ship Canal.
Last month, the city said air and soil tests showed no harmful effects from the April implosion.