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Environmental activists call on Ald. Peter Chico (10th) to withdraw an ordinance that would bring a controversial mining project to the area during a press conference Wednesday, May 15, 2024 at George Washington High School. Credit: Maia McDonald/Ecoglobalsociety

EAST SIDE — Southeast Side community organizers and environmentalists shouted down the local alderman and walked out of a town hall meeting Wednesday, demanding the freshman City Council member withdraw a controversial ordinance that would allow mining in some parts of Chicago.

Ald. Peter Chico (10th) hosted the community meeting at George Washington High School, 3535 E. 114th St. Chico is the lead sponsor of the proposed ordinance, which was introduced to City Council in January. The legislation would require planned development approval for “mining/excavation use” in certain manufacturing districts.

It was referred to the council's zoning committee, but no other action has been taken, records show.

Groups including Alliance of the Southeast and the Southeast Environmental Taskforce hosted a press conference Wednesday and interrupted the town hall to confront Chico about the legislation. Organizers believe it could help propel the Invert project, a years-old endeavor from cement company Ozinga to build a 6-million-square-foot underground warehouse on a former steel site near 112th Street and the Calumet River.

The project largely stalled last year after zoning officials determined it would require mining, the Sun-Times’ Brett Chase reported.

Lifting the city's ban on mining would further burden the Southeast Side with more heavy industry and lead to pollution and health issues, organizers said.

“We are deeply concerned by your efforts to end the mining ban and by your efforts to allow mining using explosives in our community,” said one activist, whose words were then chanted by their supporters. “Our alderman should be fighting for environmentalist options on the Southeast Side, not introducing an ordinance that would contribute to pollution. We are not a sacrifice zone.”

Chico vowed that mining would not begin in the area without community input but reaffirmed his support for the ordinance Wednesday evening.

“When it comes to the Invert project, while you guys oppose it, and I respect that, and I hear you ,and I appreciate you being here, and I appreciate that you having a press conference earlier ... on the flip side to that, there are also people who support the project who I have to listen to, who I have to answer to,” Chico said.

Activists interrupt a 10th Ward town hall meeting demanding answers from Ald. Peter Chico about his controversial mining ordinance on May 15, 2024. Credit: Maia McDonald/Ecoglobalsociety

Northwest Side Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) has co-sponsored the ordinance, previously calling it a “huge economic development opportunity for the city,” according to the Sun-Times. It is not clear how much support the effort has in City Council.

Ozinga has maintained the project would not use mining, and instead involve excavating 250 to 350 feet beneath a brownfield site to build its planned warehouse, according to the Sun-Times.

The meeting, hosted for neighbors to question city representatives on a variety of topics, soon devolved into a heated shouting match among attendees. Activists launched into a scathing critique of Chico's ordinance and interrupted the alderman’s several attempts to regain control of the meeting.

Other neighbors yelled back, booed and shouted at the activists to leave the meeting or let Chico respond. Others rolled their eyes and loudly pressed for Chico to continue answering other neighbor-submitted questions.

In response, one activist shouted, “Why them? Why not us?”

Many of the activists later walked out of the meeting to a ringing cowbell, while others in the audience clapped sarcastically and jeered.

Chico declined to answer Block Club's questions following the meeting and representatives from his office did not respond to requests for comment.

Samuel Corona, an activist for the Alliance of the Southeast, speaks during a press conference at George Washington High School on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Credit: Maia McDonald/Ecoglobalsociety

At the earlier press conference, activists again called on local representatives to commit to protecting the area's environmental health. They blasted the pro-mining ordinance, saying it could harm neighbors through air, water and ground pollution.

“I can stand here and say, with every fiber of my being that no, we do not want or need mining to exist in the city of Chicago or in the 10th Ward,” said Samuel Corona, an activist for the Alliance of the Southeast. “For far too long, our community has been undervalued and overlooked, whether our health, our schools, our public infrastructure, our house values, and now we're talking about mining under our foundations of our schools, or parks in our homes.”

Resistance to recent proposed industrial projects isn’t new, especially as the area has historically been inundated with heavy pollution and industry. Most notably, neighbors organized recently to stop embattled metal scrapper General Iron’s continued efforts to establish Southside Recycling in East Side.

Oscar Sanchez, a former 10th Ward aldermanic candidate and activist from East Side, said he and other organizers spoke out because “we understand the ramifications when people don't act in the interest of our community.”

“We care about our health, we care about ensuring the safety of our families, our children,” Sanchez said. “So we leave you with this message that if you don't get this, we're going to shut it down.”

Some neighbors jeered, booed and shouted at environmental organizers to let Chico respond to their criticisms. Credit: Maia McDonald/Ecoglobalsociety

There was some support for Chico's ordinance at the meeting.

Carolyn Martinez, who lives in the area, said she was concerned when she first heard about the Invert project. But she now supports it after seeing a presentation about the Ozinga company’s plans for the ward, she said.

“I'm on board, 100 percent,” Martinez said. “I mean, to bring businesses here, to this area, after so many years, to make it more prosperous, to be able to have people actually probably gravitate to the area because of what [Ozinga is] trying to do, I'm all for it 100 percent.”

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