Ten years ago community activists started to come together and do something about the pollution coming from their local coal-fired power plant.
The plants located in mostly Latino neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village finally received their closing papers following the decade long battle. The closing also comes on the heals of community deaths and illnesses directly related to the power plants.
“I want to see remediation,” said Leila Mendez, a resident of Pilsen. “I’m happy, I’m excited, I think about the one’s that didn’t’ make it to this victory and I’m sad.”
The data is there to support the claim and of course the range of emotions.
A 2010 study by the Clean Air Task Force revealed that pollution from Midwest Generation’s two plants leads to 42 premature deaths, 66 heart attacks, and 720 asthma attacks each year.
The Fisk plant will close by the end of this year leaving Pilsen residents to wonder what will become of the location. Little Village’s Crawford plant won’t come offline until the end of 2014. In response, community activists maintained their organizing power by launching a series of public forums to ensure their voices are heard on what happens in the future.
All of this comes after the build up of their movement. For years their concerns fell on deaf ears at their local aldermanic office. An upstart challenger forced the established candidate to change his position on the plants. Their power in the electoral realm put the new mayor on notice – Rahm entered office supportive of the local residents’ cause.
Matthew Blake did some nice reporting for Progress Illinois on the first hearing.
What Emanuel has done is vow that out of the Fisk site – still mainly owned by Midwest Generation parent Edison Electrical Institute – will arise economic development and job creation.
The mayor said March 8 that the Sierra Club and the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation would give $50,000 each to fund the redevelopment process. And the Delta Institute, a Chicago non-profit that touts its work cleaning up and also redeveloping polluted sites, would produce a final report.
Emanuel also announced both a community advisory council and a task force to look at the Fisk, and also, Crawford sites. Tom Alexander, a spokesman for the mayor, says there are no details yet as to who will be on these committees, or when they will meet. “This is still in progress,” Alexander says.
But there is something much more special in all of this. The joy on the residents faces at the press release earlier this month felt inspiring. I’ve told others that it was like seeing a five year old walk into their surprise birthday filled with the toys they wanted and their favorite cartoon characters holding them. It was just that unbelievable giddiness bordering on the too good to be true.
But it is true. Fisk will cease polluting Pilsen in the coming months. In the near future demolition will start, followed by construction. The residents want a say in it. If their ten year determination is any indication then I know they will succeed.
© Aaron Krager 2008-2013 | Have any questions? Send me an email.