Chicago Residents Win $12 Million Settlement Over Botched Coal Plant Demolition

Chicago residents win $12.25M lawsuit against developer over botched coal plant implosion that blanketed homes in thick dust, highlighting environmental risks faced by communities near industrial sites.

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Chicago Residents Win $12 Million Settlement Over Botched Coal Plant Demolition

Chicago Residents Win $12 Million Settlement Over Botched Coal Plant Demolition

Chicago residents have won a $12.25 million class-action lawsuit settlement against developer Hilco Redevelopment and its subcontractors over a botched coal plant implosion in 2020 that blanketed thousands of homes in the Little Village neighborhood with thick dust. The settlement, approved by a federal judge, will provide payments to over 20,000 eligible residents for property damage and personal injuries resulting from the failed demolition of a 400-foot smokestack at the former Crawford Power Plant.

The implosion on April 11, 2020, which was planned and executed by Hilco, failed to contain a massive cloud of particulate matter that engulfed the surrounding community. Residents recalled the suffocating dust and said they still struggle with breathing issues years later. "That dust, it didn't let us breathe," said Esmeralda Guijarro, a resident of the predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood. "You can still feel it in your chest."

The incident drew sharp criticism from then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city's former inspector general, Joe Ferguson, who accused Hilco and city officials of "negligence" and "incompetence" in their handling of the implosion. Ferguson's report, which has not been officially released, recommended disciplinary action against two city officials involved in the planning. The city has not responded to requests for comment on the report or the roles of the employees.

Under the settlement terms, affected residents will receive around $317 each in damages, which some community members view as inadequate. "This is a joke. You think $300 is enough?" said Guijarro. The funds will be divided, with $1 million for property damage claims, $7 million for anyone in the designated area on the day of the demolition, and $4.25 million for attorneys' fees and court expenses.

Why this matters: The botched demolition and its aftermath highlight the environmental and public health risks faced by communities living near industrial sites. The settlement, while seen by some as insufficient, represents a step towards corporate accountability and justice for affected residents.

Activist Edith Tovar says the settlement is a positive development but falls short of addressing the incident's long-term impact on the community. Attorney Scott Rauscher, representing the plaintiffs, stated that the lawsuit aimed to hold Hilco responsible for the damage inflicted by the implosion. The settlement allows Hilco to resolve the claims without admitting wrongdoing. It was announced just a week after the City Council approved the appointment of Deputy Commissioner Marlene Hopkins, who was found negligent in the implosion, as the new commissioner of the Buildings Department.

Key Takeaways

  • Chicago residents win $12.25M lawsuit over botched coal plant implosion in 2020.
  • Implosion by Hilco Redevelopment blanketed homes in thick dust, causing health issues.
  • Settlement provides $317 each to over 20,000 affected residents for damages.
  • Incident highlights environmental and public health risks near industrial sites.
  • Settlement seen as insufficient by some, but a step towards corporate accountability.