Following Governor's call to stop construction, Mayor Brandon Johnson's office released statement blaming state for the projects failures
Following the abrupt halt of plans to establish a migrant base camp in Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood, despite Governor Pritzker's office issuing a statement providing insights into the decision, Mayor Johnson released a response suggesting a shift of responsibility towards the state for the setbacks.
According to Johnson, “IEPA would not approve the proposed Brighton Park site for residential use, based on our regulatory standards for remediation of contaminated properties,” Illinois EPA Director John J. Kim said in a statement. “The well-being of residents and workers at the site is our highest priority, and current and planned site conditions do not adequately reduce risks of human exposure to known and potential environmental conditions.”, "Discovering toxicity [at the site] wasn't a surprise, [but in] the contract that the state of Illinois went into with Gardaworld, as they continued to build out on this site, there was no indication throughout this entire process, that a standard or a different methodology was preferable by the state of Illinois." The mayor added, "There was no additional information that was provided that would have led us to believe that this particular report that has been validated to be safe by third parties, that somehow that operation will be halted,"
However, Pritzker's office contends that city officials failed to consult with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency or the state before releasing an environmental report on the site. The Governor contended that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) actually expressed reservations about insufficient soil sampling and remediation.
Governor Pritzker's complete statement can be read below:
"IEPA standards on sampling and remediation are clear and known to the City. Those are not the standards the City chose to use. The City did not engage with IEPA or the State before releasing the report and when it did release the report, was unable to explain the lesser standards they did choose to use and how they arrived at those standards. We understand that the City selected this site and holds the lease and is therefore frustrated it cannot move forward. The State shares that frustration. But while the City might be comfortable placing asylum seekers on a site where toxins are present without a full understanding of whether it is safe, the State is not. This site will not move forward as a shelter with State involvement."
City and state officials are now back at the drawing board, exploring options for the unknown future of a migrant shelter. Although details are scant, the Illinois governor's office expresses a commitment to expedite efforts for a 200-bed brick-and-mortar shelter in the Little Village neighborhood. The state is also collaborating with the Archdiocese of Chicago to investigate additional brick-and-mortar sites.
Mayor Brandon Johnson acknowledges ongoing exploration of alternate locations without specifying potential backups. Despite setbacks, the mayor underscores the ongoing mission, especially as winter approaches, emphasizing the removal of individuals from police stations and outdoor locations.
The decision to abandon Brighton Park plans follows the temporary construction halt by Pritzker's administration. The site, located at 38th and California, underwent a pause to review an 800-page environmental assessment revealing elevated levels of mercury and other contaminants exceeding environmental limits.
Pritzker emphasizes the state's commitment to the safety of asylum seekers, pledging not to proceed with housing families amid serious environmental concerns. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cites concerns about insufficient soil sampling and remediation.
An 800-page environmental report by Terracon Consultants detailed contaminants in the soil, leading to remediation efforts until December 8. The City of Chicago paid $50,000 for the report and signed a land use agreement with potential costs for taxpayers, with an escape clause if the land proves unsuitable. The current construction costs are anticipated to be covered by the state.
The future of the migrant shelter remains uncertain as city and state officials navigate alternatives, striving to uphold their commitment to the welfare of asylum seekers.
The Brighton Park base camp aimed to temporarily accommodate up to 2,000 migrants, relocating them from airports or outside police stations.