Jun 5, 2023 - News

Denying Southside Recycling's permit could cost Chicago

industrial building

Southside Recycling's facility on the Calumet River on Chicago's Southeast side. Photo: Kelter Davis/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Mayor Brandon Johnson is vowing to appeal a ruling that Chicago was wrong to deny industrial metal shredder Southside Recycling an operating permit.

Why it matters: The administrative judge's ruling, issued late last week, doesn't mean the city must immediately roll back its permit denial, which gave a major win to environmentalists and the community that had fought to keep the shredder out of the Southeast Side.

  • But it does move forward lawsuits that could cost Chicago taxpayers millions of dollars.

Catch up fast: The metal shredder, formerly known as General Iron, made a deal with then-Mayor Lightfoot in 2019 to leave the North Side, making way for the mega-development Lincoln Yards.

  • The facility was renamed Southside Recycling and relocated to the Southeast Side, where it planned to build a state-of-the-art facility.
  • But the Environmental Protection Agency asked for a review in 2021, and the permit process stalled. The permit was officially denied the following year over pollution concerns.
  • RMG, the parent company of Southside Recycling, sued the city over the decision, saying it had followed the rules. But the city's administrative panel upheld the denial.

The latest: An administrative judge reversed course, saying the Lighfoot administration had failed to prove the metal shredder would cause the community harm.

What they're saying: "The ruling is a welcome victory after years of unforeseen obstacles and delays," RMG said in a statement.

  • "By allowing politics to hijack the apolitical permitting process governed by laws and regulations, the city demonstrated that it is not a reliable business partner, regardless of the risk to taxpayers."

The other side: Johnson says he "stands firmly behind" the permit denial.

  • Oscar Sanchez of the Southeast Side Environmental Task Force tells Axios he's encouraged to see the mayor "come out swinging," but "right now we're organizing on all fronts from the city, state and federal level to see what these next actions look like."

The intrigue: Last summer, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Chicago, claiming the city had violated residents' civil rights in trying to move a metal shredder from the North Side to the Southeast Side.

  • Lightfoot's administration entered an agreement with HUD just before she left office, vowing to review environmental burdens citywide and reform city policies and procedures.

What's ahead: "We will continue pursuing all of our rights and remedies, including our pending lawsuit, which has been on hold, to fully develop the facts supporting our claim for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages." RMG said.


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