Developer in Little Village Demolition Gone Wrong Cited By State EPA With Violating Pollution Laws
Illinois environmental enforcement officials and the state attorney general have entered the fray in the controversial demolition of an old coal plant that blanketed much of the Little Village neighborhood under piles of dust earlier this month.
Gov. JB Pritzker’s Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has accused the developer behind the demolition with breaking air and water pollution laws, while Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office on Wednesday said it was reviewing the incident.
The double-barreled move from the state against developer Hilco Redevelopment Partners comes a week after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration said it was fining Hilco $68,000 for its role in the demolition of a smokestack at the plant.
Hilco could face tens of thousands of dollars in additional fines as a result of the state EPA violations, according to the state law. While Chicago has limited authority to enforce its local ordinances related to construction dust and air quality, Raoul has broad powers to enforce the Illinois Environmental Protection Act.
“Photographs and videos taken during and following the implosion show a large cloud of dust and airborne material,” Illinois EPA officials said in a statement Wednesday. “While some dust suppression controls were utilized, a substantial plume of dust exited the site from the implosion.”
The state EPA referred the case to Raoul’s office following the April 11 incident at the former Crawford coal power plant. The botched demolition, which happened with little notice and during a respiratory pandemic, blanketed the community with dust, which was widely recorded on video and in photographs.
“We received the referral from the Illinois EPA and it is under review,” said Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.
Specifically, the EPA said in its violation notice, Hilco violated the state Environmental Protection Act by failing to comply with its stormwater protection permit that required the control of dust during demolition and construction. The company also failed to adhere to a stormwater pollution prevention plan and did not establish and follow procedures to prevent or mitigate air pollution, the state EPA said in the notice.
In all three areas, the EPA told Hilco that “compliance is expected immediately.”
Hilco and its demolition contractor used explosives to implode the tall smokestack at the old Crawford site.
“The demolition of an on-site smokestack resulted in a large dust cloud that adversely affected residents in the surrounding area,” the EPA violation notice sent to Hilco on April 16 stated. “Due to the nature and seriousness of the alleged violations, please be advised that resolution of the violations may also require the involvement of a prosecutorial authority.”
Hilco received its stormwater permit in 2019, the state EPA said in its statement. According to the statement, Hilco itself reported to the state EPA on April 15 that it violated its permit.
The city’s $68,000 in fines are being assessed, the mayor announced, based on violations of four city ordinances that relate to construction and demolition dust as well as air pollution.
Lightfoot has said the city’s health department will be “working hand in glove” with the Illinois EPA to determine additional enforcement measures that may be taken.
Lightfoot issued a stop-work order at the site, but is allowing the developer and its new contractor Heneghan Wrecking to clean up debris from the implosion.
This isn’t the first time Hilco faced 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 forced to complete $3.375 million in environmental projects. The companies also were fined $375,000.
Last week, the Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson confirmed he has opened an investigation into the implosion.
Representatives from Hilco did not immediately return calls for comment.
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.