A mayoral task force released a report Saturday with broad guidelines for how to redevelop the site of two Chicago coal-fired power plants on the Southwest Side that shut down in August. A main recommendation was that the sites be used to create local jobs in non-polluting industries.
Community advocates who live in the Pilsen neighborhood, the site of the closed Fisk plant, and Little Village, home of the shuttered Crawford plant, credit Mayor Rahm Emanuel not just for working with Midwest Generation company to shut down the plants, but also for using a task force to spark community dialogue.
“Usually task forces are where something goes to be forgotten,” says Nelson Soza, executive director of Pilsen Alliance and a member of the task force. “But this task force raised the profile of these sites.”
However, the panel did not weigh in on a central concern of community residents: who will take on remediation, i.e. the process of cleaning up the industrial site. The report reads that, “The issue of remediation was discussed by the Task Force, but the Task Force was unable to reach consensus on a recommendation for further action.”
Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of Edison International in California, is under no legal obligation to clean up the sites, though they must disable all power generating equipment.
The company also may sell the site at anytime. Midwest Generation has mentioned that they have 25 interested developers. But a successful sale will mean that the struggling energy company either ponies up the money for cleanup or finds a buyer willing to pay for remediation.
A call today to Midwest Generation was not returned. But according to other task force members interviewed, the company is set to make a request for proposal, perhaps as soon as next month, in order to officially solicit buyers.
“They are putting together a request,” says Kimberly Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and a task force member. “I think their goal is to be out of here by next year.”
Emanuel named members to a Fisk and Crawford task force back in April, two months after he announced that Midwest Generation agreed to shut down the 109 year-old Fisk plant and 88 year-old Crawford plant. Community groups campaigned for years against the plants, which were linked to respiratory illness and death in the predominantly Latino and working class neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village.
The panel held two public input sessions in June and concluded that, “The overwhelming message from public hearings” was to “create local jobs, including in ‘green’ industries.”
Task force member Jerry Mead-Lucero, an organizer at the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, acknowledges that the job recommendation “is pretty vague at this point”, but will become more specific once Midwest Generation names potential buyers. “We will know in the next few months who the likely candidates are,” Mead-Lucero says.
The task force will reconvene for a second stage, partly to “meet with firms representing Midwest Generation and potential buyers,” according to the report.