Ald. Garza to oppose General Iron’s new metal shredder on Southeast Side, activists say

Gina Ramirez, a community organizer and resident of the Southeast Side, is concerned about General Iron’s plan to open a new metal shredding plant near her home. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The planned move of General Iron from Lincoln Park to an industrial area along the Calumet River at South Burley Avenue and 116th Street later this year has been contentious since it was announced two years ago.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) has told community organizers that she will publicly oppose a controversial metal-shredding operation’s move to their East Side neighborhood, according to four people who took part in a conference call with her this week.

The planned move of General Iron from Lincoln Park to an industrial area along the Calumet River at South Burley Avenue and 116th Street later this year has been contentious since it was announced in July 2018. Residents say they are concerned about potential air pollution from the facility in a community that has a history of environmental problems.

“Having her backing is definitely what the community needs right now,” said Gina Ramirez, a Southeast Side organizer who said Garza made the promise on a call with several environmental groups on Wednesday. Three other people on the call confirmed her statements in interviews with the Sun-Times this week.

John Heroff, Garza’s policy adviser, said the alderwoman will soon make a statement on the matter but declined to comment on the meeting with the community members.

Cited by city

On May 18, the company was fined $6,000 by the city after two explosions occurred at General Iron’s North Side location, which added to community concern in Garza’s ward about the safety of the new location in addition to air pollution concerns, said Ramirez, who is a member of the South East Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke and the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

At its current location at 1909 Clifton Avenue, General Iron has been the target of numerous complaints from nearby residents and has been slapped with multiple violations of city and federal environmental laws. In 2018, General Iron announced that it was entering into a “strategic partnership” with Reserve Management Group that would bring the car and metal shredder to the Southeast Side where RMG already operates several businesses.

Alderwoman Sue Sadlowski Garza speaks to thousands gathered at the Bernie Sanders rally in Grant Park, Saturday, March 7, 2020. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-TimesTyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Alderwoman Sue Sadlowski Garza speaks to thousands gathered at the Bernie Sanders rally in Grant Park, Saturday, March 7, 2020. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

In September, Garza signaled support for the move after the company agreed to deploy an enclosed shredder equipped with suction hoods, high efficiency filters, solar panels and air monitoring technologies.

“After working alongside the city and General Iron to carefully review the company’s proposal, we are confident in the current plans to protect the environmental health of our community while allowing additional jobs for our residents. I commend the City of Chicago for taking the initiative to broker this agreement that will give all parties even greater assurance that the company will exhaust all environmental measures as part of its relocation and expansion to the 10th Ward,” she said in a statement at the time.

The new facility is expected to be built pending a permit approval from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Late Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she “is committed to protecting the health and wellness of Chicago’s residents and remains steadfast in holding General Iron accountable as it executes a planned merger with RMG.”

The statement continued: “In approving the permitting for the new facility, the City required that the new site have enhanced environmental controls, and the company has committed to meeting these requirements. Mayor Lightfoot remains in conversation with Alderman Garza to continue to monitor the situation and ensure that all regulatory and environmental standards are met.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for General Iron and RMG, didn’t comment.

Years of problems in ward

For the past seven years, Southeast Side groups have been fighting industrial polluters that have blown petroleum coke dust into the air and contaminated the soil with the metal manganese. Tenth Ward residents have become more vocal about General Iron’s planned move in recent weeks, and a community petition, that organizers say has 3,000 signatures, is circulating to pressure Garza and Lightfoot to stop it, Ramirez said.

Lincoln Park residents have long complained about the visible dust from General Iron’s site. East Side residents say they don’t want the same problems, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s time for Chicago to prioritize the health and wellbeing of all residents, not just those on the North Side,” said Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Loeb, who is advising community organizers along with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Garza was also asked by advocates to support a halt on any new construction or permits of industrial metal shredders through at least the end of the year and preferably during the length of the pandemic.

The parties would also like Garza to object to the Illinois EPA air permit for General Iron and asked her to encourage Lightfoot and the city Department of Public Health to craft stringent rules on all metal shredding companies.

The EPA permit “must be denied due to the disproportionate harms that General Iron poses,” said Meleah Geertsma, a senior attorney for NRDC. Garza “can weigh in with the Illinois EPA lending her voice to those of her constituents.”

The Illinois EPA is taking public comment on the General Iron air permit through June 13 and, so far, has received more than 90 written comments via email, said agency spokeswoman Kim Biggs.

The approximate site of the planned General Iron metal shredding plant near 116th Street and Avenue O, Thursday, May 28, 2020.Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
The approximate site of the planned General Iron metal shredding plant near 116th Street and Avenue O, Thursday, May 28, 2020.

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