Pritzker pulls state funding from Brighton Park migrant base camp over environmental concerns | Chicago News



December 1, 2023. Work underway at Brighton Park Migrant Base Camp.  (WTTW News)December 1, 2023. Work underway at Brighton Park Migrant Base Camp. (WTTW News)

Gov. JB Pritzker said Tuesday that “serious environmental concerns remain.” Chicago authorities at the property at 38th Street and California Avenue. The nine-acre site is not suitable for residential use, with plans to turn it into a so-called “winter base camp” for migrants.

Pritzker’s announcement comes nearly a week after construction began on the Brighton Park camp, and Mayor Brandon Johnson said the site will remain open as long as contaminated soil is removed and at least a 6-inch stone barrier covers the site. This comes days after the city said it was safe to use as a temporary shelter. entire property.

“We cannot proceed with building family homes in areas where serious environmental problems still exist,” Pritzker said in a statement.

“The mission is very much alive” to move migrants from police stations and the city’s airport to more dignified living conditions, Johnson told reporters.

Mr Johnson said it was not surprising that “toxic substances” had been found on the site, which has seen decades of industrial activity, but said construction would be halted after it began due to serious environmental concerns. He suggested he was caught by surprise by the state’s decision. Evaluation was still ongoing.

“As they continued to build this site, there was no indication throughout this process that the State of Illinois preferred a standard or a different methodology,” Johnson said, adding that “this particular report does not make us feel safe.” Since it has been verified by a third party that this is the case, we believe that the activity will be stopped in some way.”

The city agreed to pay Garda World Federal Services $29 million to erect giant tents to house the migrants and care for them, under a contract originally signed by state officials.

In remarks made after an unrelated incident, Mr Johnson reiterated that the state had approved the original contract with Garda World that was used to begin construction of the now-abandoned base camp. emphasized.

The mayor was also furious at repeated questions about whether there was a viable Plan B following the state’s decision to withdraw funding from the Brighton Park base camp project.

“From the moment I became mayor of Chicago, I’ve had Plans B, C, D, and E and F,” Johnson said. “And whether it’s 115th and Austin, 38th and California, or any other brick-and-mortar location that we’ve identified, if we can meet the objectives of this mission. , please know that my administration is planning ahead.”

A second base camp for migrants will be built at 115th Street and Halstead Avenue, but plans have not yet been finalized.

At a Nov. 28 press conference, Johnson did not directly answer WTTW News’ questions about why he decided to start construction on the base camp before the environmental assessment was released.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the mayor’s office said the state made the decision to begin construction “concurrently with the performance of an environmental assessment and remediation work previously contracted by the city.”

But Pritzker spokesman Jordan Abudayeh said GardaWorld decided to start construction before the state signed an environmental assessment. It’s unclear how much the work cost. Or who will ultimately pay those bills?

“They knew there was some liability there and that we might not use the site,” Abudayeh said, referring to Gardaworld. “But it was better to be prepared than to waste another week waiting.”

Abudayeh said as of Tuesday, the state had not disbursed any funds for the construction of the base camp. State officials set aside $65 million to pay for one base camp in Chicago and opened another shelter in a vacant CVS drug store in Little Village.

Officials with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency have refused to certify that nine acres near California 38th Street can be safely used as a shelter, saying that testing the site’s soil and efforts to remove contaminated soil have been “inadequate.” ”.

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director John J. Kim said, “The health of site residents and workers is our top priority, and current and planned site conditions are “The risk of human exposure to the conditions has not been sufficiently reduced.”

Mr Johnson’s office chose the Brighton Park site this fall to provide shelter for 2,000 migrants, all of whom have applied for asylum and are in the country legally. In total, more than 24,000 migrants headed to Chicago in buses paid for by Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Most crossed the southern border fleeing Venezuela’s economic collapse and political instability.

The humanitarian crisis that engulfed the city in the wake of the arrival of immigrants has strained the city’s social safety net, strained the city’s finances, and exacerbated tensions between Chicago’s black and Latino communities. The relationship between Mr. Johnson and Mr. Pritzker has also deteriorated, complicating efforts to address broader issues in the state and city.

There are about 450 people in the city’s police department and another 150 at O’Hare International Airport, the lowest numbers since President Johnson took office, according to city data released Tuesday.

Another 13,500 migrants are living in the city’s shelters, the highest number ever.

The state’s decision to permanently halt base camp construction is a major rebuke to Mr. Pritzker and Mr. Johnson, a fellow Democrat. In a statement late Friday, Johnson assured Chicago residents that the site was safe to use as a shelter.

It’s unclear how much money the city spent conducting an environmental assessment of the site and partially building the base camp. It’s also unclear whether city officials will move forward with plans for a base camp without permission from state environmental officials.

Based on the environmental assessment announced by the city, tests were conducted at 16 locations on the site, and soil, groundwater, and soil gas samples were collected and analyzed.

The governor’s office said it was insufficient “to comprehensively evaluate the environmental conditions of the entire site” and that additional testing was needed.

The governor’s office said, “Remediation performed to date does not meet (Illinois Department of Environmental Protection) standards and is inadequate.” “At a minimum, it will be necessary to install an extended engineered barrier between contaminated soil and human exposure to address exposure concerns. Further investigation will likely result in additional contamination requiring additional remediation.” may be identified.”

A report released Friday said mercury was found at one location on the property and the soil in the area was removed and disposed of.

Elsewhere, the organic compound bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate was found, the report said. This compound is used to make polyvinyl chloride, a hard and flexible plastic. The soil has not yet been removed or disposed of, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

Multiple locations on the property exceed standards considered safe for residential use, according to a report city officials said was conducted based on standards set by state environmental officials. Two types of semi-volatile organic compounds and four types of metals were detected.

Read the full report.

Under the terms of the agreement reached in October, the city would pay the landowner $91,400 a month to lease the land. If the site is not used as a migrant shelter, the agreement could be scrapped.

Ronnie Reese, a spokesman for Mr. Johnson, said city officials were still deciding on the future of the 38th and California sites.

In late September, Mr. Pritzker criticized Mr. Johnson’s tent plan, telling reporters that it would be better to house migrants in unused federal buildings. By mid-November, the city’s cold had eased, and Mr. Pritzker said he had no other choice to prevent people from freezing to death on Chicago streets, and he decided to spend $160 million to care for migrants at one base camp. Agreed.

Aldo. Andre Vazquez (40th District) said he was grateful to Pritzker for “intervening to put the health and safety of our people first” by halting construction of the base camp. Mr. Vazquez also opposed Mr. Johnson’s base camp plan.

Aldo. Julia Ramirez (12th District), who has repeatedly publicly opposed plans to use the site as an immigrant shelter, said she was pleased that the governor has further strengthened her “responsibility to care for the health of immigrant families and residents.” He said he was there.

“Winter is here and there is still a lot of work to be done. We must continue to find safe haven for asylum seekers,” Ramirez said.

Former Aldo. George Cardenas (Ward 12) said the city’s insistence on building a camp at the site is “baffling.” Mr. Cardenas currently serves on the Cook County Board of Review and is seeking re-election as the Democratic Commissioner for District 12. Mr. Ramirez, who defeated Mr. Cárdenas’ hand-picked successor, is supporting state Rep. Theresa Marr in that race.

“This site has a history of industrial use dating back nearly a century, having once been part of a railroad yard and used as a zinc smelter,” Cárdenas said. “This legacy raises serious questions about whether this site is suitable for housing purposes. Moreover, building this migrant camp would be a slap in the face to a community already plagued by environmental injustice. It will give.”

Although the city is in charge of managing the shelter, the state of Illinois provides funding so it can make decisions about the future of the base camp.

State officials said they would accelerate efforts to open a 200-bed shelter in a vacant CVS pharmacy in Little Village and “work with the Archdiocese of Chicago to explore additional options for brick-and-mortar shelter sites.” Stated.

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