Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday January 6th, 2014, 4:10pm

Pilsen Residents Push Back Against Proposed Metal Recycling Facility

Chicago's Zoning Board of Appeals granted Pure Metal Recycling more time on its application for a special use permit involving the company's attempt to open a large shredding facility in Pilsen.

In late December, an attorney for Pure Metal Recycling asked that the hearing be postponed until this month at the request of Ald. Danny Solis (25th), whose ward would house the proposed metal shredder. The Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) had requested that the aldermen ask for the delay, citing environmental community concerns. The next Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on the matter is scheduled for January 17 at 2 p.m.

The company is seeking a special use permit to establish a $30 million metal recycling facility on 15 acres of land near Cermak Road and Loomis Street by the South Branch of the Chicago River. It would be nearly across the street from Benito Juarez Academy, 1510 W. Cermak Rd., and a few blocks from another metal shredding facility, Sims Metal Management, at 2500 S. Paulina St.

Some community members say the new scrap metal factory would be a step back when it comes to the recent environmental progress in Pilsen, such as shutting down the Fisk coal-fired power plant as well as cleaning up the H. Kramer copper smelting foundry and the former Lowenthal Metals site.

"There's no zero-emissions shredder," Nelson Soza of the community group Pilsen Alliance said in remarks after the December 20 meeting. "These metals are going to be particles that are going to fly into the air. These folks use water to suppress that, but there is no 100 percent assurance ... that this is going to be completely clean."

Pure Metal Recycling spokesman Matt Butterfield said the company was content with postponing the hearing so Pilsen residents have more time time to ask questions about the proposed facility. The hearing was delayed "out of respect to the community," Butterfield said.

Pilsen residents said they first heard of the plan through media reports last August, about two weeks before it was first slated to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for a vote. Soza argues that Pure Metal Recycling and Solis were trying to ram the proposal through without community scrutiny. The hearing was postponed in August, and again in October, following opposition from some residents, who are also worried about noise, dust and diesel emissions from trucks going in and out of the factory.

Soza said Pilsen Alliance wanted a hearing last month, because they had "the muscle" to take down the proposal.

"We had at least 20 people ready to go ... we have the goods," he said. "We have what it takes right now to defeat this proposal."

It was delayed for yet a third time, because Solis "knew that he was defeated on this," he added.

If the metal shredder gets the green light to open this year, it would be operating under the most current and tough Environmental Protection Agency guidelines at the city, state and federal levels, unlike older facilities like Sims, Butterfield explained. Additionally, trucks at the facility would be able to park on site and cut their engines in order to avoid idling on the street or blocking traffic.

The company says it will create 100 full-time jobs with benefits at the site. During previous community meetings with Pure Metal Recycling officials, Soza said he learned the company plans on paying its employees at the proposed site about $10 an hour, which is less than the base $15 hourly wage that unionized workers at Sims earn. The two sites would be in competition, which could potentially undermine the unionized jobs at Sims, Soza said.

Meanwhile, Pure Metal Recycling is part of a joint venture with Brett Baron, son of the owner of the Bridgeport-based Acme Metal Refinery, which saw its headquarters at 3357 S. Justine St. raided back in August by federal authorities from the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division. No charges were filed in the case at the time of the raid and further details about the investigation have not been released, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The newspaper found that Acme has shelled out almost $200,000 in Illinois political contributions, with the biggest chunk, $32,000, going to Solis' 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. 

Pure Metal Recycling maintains that it is separate from Acme, as reported by DNAinfo Chicago.

When asked what's wrong with pushing the hearing back a few weeks, Soza said it means more time for potential “backroom deals” and political “donations.”

"We think that this is one more case of Ald. Solis listening to the money instead of listening to the people, and we’re committed to end that," he stressed.

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