Anthony Moser: Gov. Pritzker, don’t sell the Damen Silos on the Chicago River to a polluter – Chicago Tribune

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Despite much talk of a green future, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is preparing for the new year with some old moves: privatizing public land, helping a polluter and making plans for a community without involving the people who live there.

As things stand, Illinois is getting ready to sell the Damen Silos, an abandoned industrial site on the Chicago River, to Michael Tadin Jr., the owner of a controversial asphalt plant that has plagued its neighbors since it started operating.

This is a historic riverfront property. It is unacceptable for the state to sell public land from our community without asking even once what people who live here might think. But there is still time for Pritzker to reconsider, to reckon with the harm the state has already caused to the McKinley Park neighborhood and to stop the sale of the silos.

The year before Pritzker was first elected, the state approved a permit to open MAT Asphalt in McKinley Park. Officials did so without community involvement of any kind. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency was supposed to do an environmental justice review, meant to protect vulnerable communities already burdened by pollution.

There was no review.

Now, we live daily with the consequences, while MAT Asphalt cooks hot oil across from the park itself, next to one school and down the block from another. We feel the rumble of diesel trucks on our streets. We wake to the smell of asphalt in our living rooms and nurseries. Teachers walk to their cars at the end of the school day and have to wipe away a layer of dust, while children play on a playground a few hundred feet from large piles of raw materials.

Unsurprisingly, MAT Asphalt had close to 130 complaints last year, putting it within the top five entities in the city for similar complaints. The plant was even fined for air pollution and for failing to control the dust from its operations. It is now suing the city to overturn those tickets, rather than accept even the smallest measure of accountability.

Many industries call the Southwest Side home. McKinley Park is pushing back. ]

“These odors are very uncomfortable to inhale and instantly made me nauseous,” wrote a city inspector during a site visit, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times last year.

Under Pritzker, the state is preparing to do the same thing, to the same community, for the benefit of the same man. This is how environmental racism is made: one decision at a time.

Being an environmental leader must include focusing on the communities most hurt by pollution and ensuring that their health is being protected. The rushed sale of the Damen Silos is a potential threat to our health that we can’t ignore since its impacts can be felt for decades to come.

After being public land for almost a hundred years, the historic Damen Silos were listed and sold in just months. Only the price was considered. The sale is set to be finalized at the end of December during the holidays, when people turn their attention away from the news and toward their families.

Tadin’s fortune comes from trucking, construction and asphalt. He is in the business of carbon emissions, but incredibly, the Pritzker administration has claimed this as an investment in the future

If there were an opportunity for public input, there would surely be a wealth of ideas for a truly green development for this space.

If Pritzker wants to be seen as an environmental leader, it is not enough to talk about the future. He must stop repeating the harms of the past — he must stop the sale of the Damen Silos.

Anthony Moser is board president of the McKinley Park group Neighbors for Environmental Justice.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

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December 5, 2022 at 06:44AM

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