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Pritzker rejects toxic migrant shelter site in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood

Tents can be seen at a site where the state had planned to set up winterized base camps to house up to 1,500 migrants at 38th Street and California Avenue in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood.
Ashlee Rezin
/
Chicago Sun-Times
Tents can be seen at a site where the state had planned to set up winterized base camps to house up to 1,500 migrants at 38th Street and California Avenue in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood.

The decision follows the city of Chicago’s release of an environmental report Friday that showed the location at 38th and California required metals and chemicals cleanup.

Citing “serious environmental concerns,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday said the state is ending development of a proposed migrant camp in Brighton Park.

The decision follows the city of Chicago’s release of an environmental report Friday night that showed the location at 38th Street and California Avenue required cleanup of heavy metals and toxic chemicals.

“My administration is committed to keeping asylum seekers safe as we work to help them achieve independence,” Gov J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “We will not proceed with housing families on a site where serious environmental concerns are still present. My administration remains committed to a data-driven plan to improve the asylum seeker response and we will continue to coordinate with the city of Chicago as we work to expand available shelter through winter.”

RELATED: Brighton Park migrant tent site is polluted with toxic heavy metals; city plans cleanup

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration on Monday, however, had said the site could be made safe for temporary residential use by removing the harmful metals and other substances.

Johnson’s chief of staff, Rich Guidice, and Guidice’s deputy, Cristina Pacione-Zayas, could not be reached for comment Tuesday on the state’s decision.

RELATED: What defines Pritzker-Johnson relationship so far? Tension

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency began reviewing the almost 800-page report prepared by a consultant to the city over the weekend. The state halted construction Sunday.

The governor’s administration said Tuesday it won’t proceed with development at the site “following a thorough review” by the Illinois EPA.

“Given the significant time required to conduct additional sampling, to process and analyze results, and to implement corresponding further remediation, the state will work with the city to identify alternate shelter options,” the governor’s office said in announcing the decision.

RELATED: Brighton Park migrant tent site had mercury, arsenic, other contaminants — but city deems it ‘safe for temporary residential use’

The state also announced it will expedite plans for a brick-and-mortar shelter in Little Village that would provide 200 beds to families and people with disabilities.

The governor’s office said it has requested alternate sites from the city — and that the state is working with the Archdiocese of Chicago to explore other options.

It said that, under the Illinois EPA’s guidelines, “Insufficient sampling and remediation at the Brighton Park site does not meet state cleanup standards for residential use.”

RELATED: Brighton Park migrant site construction halted pending environmental review

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), chair of the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, welcomed the state’s decision to halt construction.

“This is why, for months, I’ve seen saying we should have been purchasing, leasing and fixing buildings as opposed to going through this base camp strategy. ,,, I’ve never thought that would be the way to go because they’re tents in the winter in the city of Chicago. That’s enough problems as it is,” Vasquez said Tuesday.

“It makes sense to find the safest way possible because we don’t want situations where, years from now, we find out people are ill — especially when you’re talking about kids that are on that site. It makes sense to do all our due diligence to treat people the way we would all want to be treated in that situation,” he added.

Senior mayoral adviser Jason Lee was also unavailable for comment.

Earlier in the week, however, Lee had defended the mayor’s decision to proceed with construction at the contaminated and abandoned industrial site in Brighton Park and insisted remediation work had made it safe.

“A huge percentage of sites across the city that have to be developed require remediation. That’s just the nature of being in an urban environment,” Lee told the Sun-Times.

“This land was surrounded by neighbors, surrounded by community. Nobody was using it. It’s an eyesore. And now, we’ve come in and done remediation work that now makes the land usable for the temporary purpose of a temporary shelter and will make it usable for subsequent development that can benefit that community.”

Lee said then it was “absurd to think” the city would “take on the liability” of temporarily housing migrants on a site “where we had any inkling ... that they would be in harm’s way.”

Tina Sfondeles is the chief political reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times
Fran Spielman covers Chicago City Hall for the Chicago Sun-Times.
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