Jun 29, 2023

In General Iron case, Brandon Johnson administration asks judge to block Southeast Side Chicago metal

Activists protest outside City Hall in June urging the city to continue to block the opening of a car-shredding operation on the Southeast Side.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

A large car-shredding operation on the Southeast Side would be a threat to the health of people nearby and shouldn’t be allowed to open, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration argued in a court filing Wednesday.

City Hall also reiterated that it was justified in denying an operating permit that was sought by the owner of Southside Recycling, the rebranded business formerly known as General Iron.

City officials hope to persuade Cook County Circuit Judge Allen Walker to deny Southside Recycling’s request to force the city’s health department to immediately issue a permit allowing the already-fully built metal-shredder to operate at East 116th Street along the Calumet River.

Last month, the business asked the judge to order Chicago officials to allow Southside Recycling to open. It argued that a city administrative hearings process this year found that the city didn’t follow its own rules in a permitting process that ultimately barred the metal-shredder from opening.

Arguing it was justified in turning down the operation, City Hall also said the business wrongly interpreted the administrative hearings appeal’s findings.

“Southside Recycling has it all wrong,” lawyers said in their filing.

During a years-long campaign, community organizers, health and environmental advocates urged former Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deny the business permission to operate on the Southeast Side. The heavily industrial area is polluted and suffers from poor air quality, and adding another polluting business would make neighbors sick, they have argued.

Johnson has said the city has a right to deny the permit, and City Hall’s lawyers repeated the concerns about public health in the court filing this week.

“Southside Recycling wishes to immediately commence a heavy industrial operation that will cause the harmful impacts on local residents that [the health department] found would occur,” the city’s lawyers wrote.

In a separate court filing Thursday, lawyers for environmental organizations that oppose the business echoed concerns about harm to the community and noted the city’s role in moving General Iron from largely white, wealthy Lincoln Park to an East Side location in a Latino community surrounded by Black neighborhoods.

The planned relocation of a polluter was the basis for a federal civil rights investigation that resulted in findings that the city engaged in discriminatory land-use, planning and zoning practices.

Before leaving office, Lightfoot signed a binding agreement with President Joe Biden’s administration promising that the city will change its practices.

“We live under the constant threat of this massive industrial facility coming online,” said Olga Bautista, a Southeast Side activist who was part of the federal civil rights complaint against the city.

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