Attorney General Sues Hilco After Botched Little Village Smokestack Demolition

The state’s top prosecutor says the company did not take steps “to protect the community from air pollution and compromised air quality” after the implosion covered the neighborhood in dust.

A drone video showed how the dust cloud spread from the Crawford demolition site and descended onto Little Village homes. (Alejandro Reyes/YouTube)

LITTLE VILLAGE — Less than a month after a botched implosion in Little Village, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is suing Hilco Redevelopment Partners.

In the lawsuit filed Tuesday, Raoul alleges developer Hilco and its contractors, MCM Management Corp and Controlled Demolition, violated the state’s air pollution regulations when it demolished a 378-foot smokestack at the nearly century-old Crawford site April 11.

“The companies responsible for the demolition of the Crawford Power Generating Station’s smokestack failed to take steps to protect the community from air pollution and compromised air quality at a time when we are urging residents to remain in their communities to minimize the spread of a deadly respiratory disease,” Raoul said in a press release. 

Little Village streets were covered in dust following demolition of a smokestack at the site early Saturday morning. (Maclovio/ Instagram@Macnifying_Glass)

“I am committed to holding the defendants accountable for the environmental damage done to the Little Village community and working to address any remaining contamination.”

Raoul is seeking undetermined civil penalties and is requiring the companies to take corrective and preventative actions to protect residents from air pollution. 

Last month, a cloud of dust covered the streets of Little Village following the city-approved implosion, causing neighbors to worry about the contents of the dust.

(Alejandro Reyes/YouTube)

Hilco faces two other lawsuits from residents following the bungled implosion, as well as a wrongful death suit after a worker plummeted to his death.

The company, which purchased the decommissioned coal plant in 2017, is demolishing the site to make way for a one-million-square-foot logistics facility.

Last month, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency referred the investigation to the state attorney general’s office after the company and its contractor “failed to take necessary steps to protect nearby residents from the resulting impact of the implosion,” Illinois EPA Director John J. Kim said in a press release. 

The IEPA referred to the matter Attorney General’s office to ensure Hilco and the contractor are held responsible and “are required to take the necessary steps to remediate the impacts,” Kim said.  

Following the demolition, city officials issued a stop-work order at the site and hit the company with $68,000 in fines. The company’s contractor, Heneghan Wrecking, has been allowed to clean up demolition debris at the site.

Heneghan is not named in Raoul’s lawsuit.

“We continue to have an open and productive dialogue with authorities and look forward to bringing this to an appropriate resolution,” a Hilco spokesperson said in an email.

The lawsuit marks the latest development in the controversial project that has faced community opposition since it was first proposed.

This is not the first time Hilco and its contractor have faced allegations of environmental violations

In Maryland, Hilco and its partners were fined for environmental violations related to the demolition of retired steel mill buildings, according to a settlement. Contractor MCM Management Corp., which worked on the Crawford site, also was part of the Maryland project.

In a 2015 agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment, the developers and its contractor settled, and were required to complete $3.375 million in environmental projects. The companies also were fined $375,000.

Following the April implosion, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and neighbors called on the developer to abandon its plan to redevelop the site into a 1-million-square-foot distribution center.

Activists in the majority-Latino neighborhood on the Southwest Side also want Lightfoot to rescind the $19.7 million in tax subsidies the city has promised Hilco for the project.

The city’s Inspector General Joseph Ferguson confirmed he has opened an investigation into the implosion.

After the implosion, Kim Wasserman, executive director of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said residents who live near industrial areas have no power to reject development that puts their health at risk.

That needs to change, she said.

“This isn’t a ‘bad apple’ problem,” Wasserman said. “Community harm is stemming from one broken, corrupt, racist system. This is a system that cannot be redeemed and these are ethical failures by public servants that cannot be overlooked by our communities any longer.”

 

This story was produced with Block Club Chicago, a nonprofit newsroom focused on Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Environmental reporting at the BGA is supported by Joel M. Friedman, President of The Alvin H. Baum Family Fund.