Warehouses, truck traffic under microscope as groups lobby Mayor Lightfoot to deliver on air pollution pledge

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Shannon Glass and her husband Marty Gleason bought their home in Canaryville over six years ago because it was affordable and close to the neighborhood where Glass grew up.

As a third-generation South Sider, Glass is used to living near factories, large and small, but a newer and rapidly growing industry – large warehouses largely accommodating the growth of online shopping. – is not something she can adopt.

There are at least five under development or newly opened warehouse projects within a short drive of Glass’s home, including a proposal for a large development at 3900 S. Normal Ave.

She fears these developments potentially bring hundreds of trucks into areas already populated with warehouses – the same neighborhoods on the southwest side that city health officials previously identified as having one of the worst qualities in the world. air in Chicago.

“We already have a lot of truck traffic and just a lot of air quality issues that never really get resolved,” Glass said. “We’re not getting any of the benefits.”

The proposed warehouse and a nearby planned warehouse at 1032 W. 43rd St. are the first to come under review under a new air pollution ordinance backed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and adopted by city council in March. The ordinance was retained by the mayor as his signature action to reduce the pollution burden on low-income communities.

But critics say the law is already insufficient, citing two city-ordered air and traffic pollution reviews that they say appear to give the plans a green light. The increase in truck-intensive warehouse developments exponentially increases pollution for some neighborhoods, they add.

Suspend warehouse development, critics say

The sites have yet to receive city approval, and it’s unclear how long the development approval process will take, but criticism is already hanging over it.

More than a dozen environmental, health, community and civil rights groups have written to the city asking for a break in industrial permits, including warehouse development, until the city can better explain how the process will be more rigorous under the new air ordinance.

Until a better environmental review process is underway, the city should suspend approval of the warehouses, according to the groups.

For example, the Lightfoot administration has pledged to support a “cumulative burden” pollution ordinance that takes into account all the environmental and health elements of a community that already experiences many pollution and health problems.

“We strongly urge the city to forgo going ahead with these proposed warehouses and further adopt a moratorium on all similar industrial permits until it adopts a comprehensive framework to assess and address the disparities. in the related environmental and socio-economic burdens within Chicago, ”the signed letter said. by Meleah Geertsma, Senior Counsel for the environmental organization Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Lightfoot administration has shown a “failure to recognize and determine whether and how these diesel truck installations will cause or contribute significant disproportionate environmental burdens in an already overburdened environmental justice community,” the letter added, using a term for low income, often minority neighborhoods that already live with environmental and health risks.

Residents of New City, the community area that includes the neighborhoods of Canaryville and Back of the Yards, are over 60% Latino, 23% Black, and about 13% White and have a per capita income of less than $ 17,000 per year. , according to census data. . Multiple environmental maps, including the city’s own research, show that the region has a high concentration of health and environmental burdens.

The Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the Respiratory Health Association, the Illinois Environmental Council, Earthjustice, and the National Housing Law Project are among the groups listed as supporting the letter’s requests.

In a statement to the Sun-Times, the city said its public health and transportation analysts “have determined that the operations offered by the two facilities are relatively straightforward and that neither would have a substantial impact on the quality of service. local air “.

The statement also welcomed the Lightfoot administration’s pledge to take a longer-term view of environmental concerns. The statement added, “While the city currently has an extensive process to assess the impact of any proposed development, we plan to build on this effort by developing a cumulative impact ordinance that addresses many concerns. broader disclosed in the public comments. The city takes a broader look at the impacts and existing conditions through an environmental justice lens. ”

A warehouse development project at 3900 S. Normal Ave. will bring many more trucks every day into an already polluted area, according to health and environmental advocates.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

But in an interview, Geertsma said city officials do not take into consideration the other burdens these communities are already facing and are working “with limited tools, having ignored the necessary groundwork.”

Specifically, an air emissions modeling report prepared by an external company and presented to the city concluded that the increase in traffic around the two proposed warehouses would not exceed the national standards set for the limits of three types of pollution.

The city “cannot accept this myopic analysis as fulfilling its obligations of environmental justice and of recognizing and reducing disproportionate negative impacts,” noted the letter to the city written by Geertsma.

For example, common pollutants from diesel trucks need to be looked at closely, she said, citing a recent national-level pollution review. The US Environmental Protection Agency said it was revising its guidelines on fine particles, often called soot, which are released by diesel trucks and can become embedded deep in the lungs.

“The concept [of the ordinance] is right, but the inner workings of it don’t provide our communities with what we were looking for, ”said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. “It’s a great example of what happens when you don’t work with the community to develop these things. “

A massive warehouse distribution site at 3501 S. Pulaski Road in Little Village opened in July and is now leased by Target has been at the heart of a multi-year controversy in Little Village.

Located on the site of a former coal-fired power plant that the community has asked to close, the warehouse has been the target of protests from Wasserman’s group saying it could bring hundreds of trucks in and out of the facility. every day, adding pollution to the air. Target said its trucks will not cross residential streets and will stay on Pulaski while heading to and from nearby Interstate 55.

Wasserman’s group was among the community organizations that also supported the letter sent to the city earlier this month.

A 2020 map prepared by planners shows more than 30 warehouse distribution sites with just three locations north of Roosevelt Road. Certainly the Southwest Side, including parts of Bridgeport, New City and McKinley Park, is strategically located for such operations. The area is already largely zoned for industrial purposes and located away from major highways such as Highways 90 and 55.

The two New City warehouse projects are being developed by a joint venture that includes The Missner Group of Des Plaines. Representatives for Missner declined to comment.

Warehouse development is planned at 3900 S. Normal Ave.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

Logistics put forward for the economic future of the city

While Lightfoot has pledged to improve air quality in Chicago, its economic development and planning officials have touted logistics as a key part of the city’s economic future.

Glass, who recently stood in a corner near the 3900 S. Normal site as dozens of trucks passed by on a weekday morning, wonders why the city can’t at least consider a green space or some other kind of park. company to add.

“I understand why they want to put them in our neighborhood, but I want to know that they have a plan to fix environmental issues – and they’re not just putting them at the expense of our neighborhood,” Glass said. “It sounds like a real lack of imagination – just a type of business.”

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


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