Dec 4, 2023 - News

Illinois halts construction of Chicago migrant camp

Man holding sign reading "This land is contaminated" in front of a police SUV and next to traffic blockades.

Roberto Silvestre protests at the gate of the tent city in the Brighton Park neighborhood on 38th Street as work is underway on Nov. 27. Photo: E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Illinois officials have paused construction on the Brighton Park migrant camp in order to review a new city-commissioned report that found high levels of mercury, lead and other toxic elements at the site.

Why it matters: The state-funded camp, initially set to open in mid-December, was intended to be the first major sector of alternative housing for thousands of migrants sleeping in makeshift tents, police stations, churches and overcrowded shelters.

What they're saying: "The state has temporarily paused construction on the site pending (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency) review of the environmental study," Illinois Department of Human Services spokesperson Rachel Otwell tells Axios.

  • An IEPA spokesperson tells Axios the agency is awaiting answers to "some outstanding questions."

Catch up fast: Last month, Gov. JB Pritzker pledged $65 million to fund the camp and another shelter at a former CVS in Little Village.

  • Ald. Julia Ramirez, whose 12th Ward includes the migrant camp site, has been warning about "toxic metals" at the location for weeks, and asking the city to pause the project until the results of an environmental impact study are shared.
  • Despite the warning, construction began last week, several days before the city released its environmental assessment.

Of note: The city initially shared the report late Friday only with those reporters who had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see it.

  • By Sunday, officials had posted the more than 800-page report online and released a statement saying that after workers remove contaminated soil and install a rock barrier, the site would be "safe for temporary residential use."

Between the lines: Disagreement over the site has highlighted recent tensions between Pritzker and Mayor Brandon Johnson, per the Sun-Times.

  • State officials expressed frustration with the environmental assessment's release and told the Tribune they didn't receive the report until Friday evening.

Meanwhile, a Cook County judge on Monday denied a request by neighbors to block construction based on claims that the camp violates zoning codes and would result in "irreparable harm."

What's next: A spokesperson for the mayor said in a statement that construction and remediation work will be completed according to the state's timeline.

  • "The city will share assessment of subsequent remediation as it becomes available."

What we're watching: The state says the Little Village shelter is expected to open this month.


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