General Iron’s move to South Side got city boost, emails show

City officials were closely involved three years ago in numerous steps leading up to the controversial relocation of the car-shredding operations of General Iron to the Southeast Side, a review of hundreds of pages of emails shows.

The behind-the-scenes involvement with top officials of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration are now among the activities being scrutinized in two federal civil rights complaints that allege environmental racism as the city helped move a source of pollution out of the white, wealthy Lincoln Park neighborhood to a Latino-majority community in Chicago’s 10th Ward, which already suffers from poor air quality.

From at least early 2018, top city officials discussed the relocation of the polluting business, even noting a “possible 10th ward relocation.” A planned announcement of General Iron’s intent to sell its 20-acre Lincoln Park land, coveted by developers, was halted at the city’s request during that time so plans could be announced jointly with the city at a later date. The business’ representatives communicated often and scheduled in-person meetings with top officials, records show.

Just before a July 2018 announcement that Reserve Management Group, which operates several businesses on the Southeast Side, would acquire General Iron and move its operations, city officials scrambled to coordinate the news release with company representatives.

None of this was out of the ordinary, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration said on Friday, defending the Emanuel-era actions and adding the city had “no role in choosing the location for the expansion.”

An environmental activist involved with one of the civil rights complaints criticized the close communication between the city and General Iron.

“We see these officials then and now refusing to put the health of Chicago residents before polluting industries,” said Olga Bautista, a Southeast Side community organizer.

A stop General Iron sign sits in front of Gina Ramirez’s home in the southeast side of Chicago, Thursday, May 28, 2020. Ramirez like many others in her neighborhood are concerned about General Iron wanting to open a new metal shredding plant near where she lives. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A stop General Iron sign sits in front of a home on the southeast side of Chicago.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The emails, obtained through Illinois Freedom of Information Act requests, show that months before the July 2018 announcement, city officials appeared to be planning for General Iron’s move south, discussing amending city laws pertaining to metal-shredding operations and other considerations.

“We need to prioritize [a] standard for shredders,” former Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman said in a May 15, 2018, email to staff members, noting the “possible 10th ward relocation.”

Just a few days before, 10th Ward Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza told a small group of community members at a meeting that high-ranking members in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration were reaching out to her to support the relocation of the business to her ward, according to five people who attended the…

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