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Verdicts & Settlements

Little Village Settles for $12.25 Million After Smokestack Implosion

— May 14, 2024

The implosion has reignited talk of environmental racism in the Chicago area.

The predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village in Chicago has finally reached a settlement with Hilco Redevelopment and its contractors over the disastrous 2020 implosion of a smokestack at the former Crawford power plant. A federal judge approved the $12.25 million class-action settlement, marking a conclusion to a legal battle that brought both a sense of vindication and lingering frustration for residents.

The Easter weekend demolition went horribly wrong, sending a massive cloud of dust engulfing Little Village. Residents awoke to thick, choking dust blanketing their homes, streets, and cars. Many reported immediate difficulties breathing, raising concerns about potential long-term health effects. The incident reignited discussions of environmental racism, with critics pointing to the predominantly Latino makeup of the neighborhood and questioning why such a demolition project was approved in a densely populated area.

The settlement offers some financial compensation to those impacted. Over $7 million will be distributed to anyone present within a designated area of Little Village on the day of the demolition. Property owners within the zone will be eligible for a share of the remaining $1 million allocated for property damage claims. However, the math translates to a meager $317 per person for personal injury claims. This figure falls far short of covering potential medical expenses for residents who continue to experience respiratory issues.

Little Village Settles for $12.25 Million After Smokestack Implosion
Photo by Ion Ceban from Pexels

Irma Morales, a resident and activist, expressed her disappointment.

“They’re laughing at us,” she said. “Three hundred dollars is only one doctor’s appointment. It’s a joke.”  Morales’ sentiment echoes the frustration of many in Little Village who feel the settlement is inadequate compensation for their lasting health concerns and disruption.

While the settlement’s financial limitations are a source of discontent, community organizers see it as a step toward accountability. Edith Tovar of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) offered a nuanced perspective.

“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “This settlement allowed us to voice our concerns in a courtroom, but it’s still not enough for the long-term effects that our residents are bearing right now.”

The LVEJO has been a vocal advocate for the community throughout the ordeal, demanding transparency and accountability from both Hilco and city officials.

The controversy surrounding the demolition extends far beyond the financial settlement. A cloud of secrecy hangs over the city’s handling of the project. The Chicago Inspector General’s report, which reportedly criticizes city officials for negligence in overseeing the demolition, remains unreleased despite Mayor Brandon Johnson’s calls for transparency.

The report reportedly singles out Marlene Hopkins, the current Chicago Department of Buildings commissioner, for her role in the incident while she served as managing deputy commissioner. Despite these accusations, Hopkins faced no repercussions and was recently confirmed to her current position. This lack of accountability from the city only deepens the sense of injustice felt by residents of Little Village.

The implosion debacle has reignited discussions of environmental racism in Chicago. Alderman Mike Rodriguez, who represents Little Village, voiced this concern, calling the incident “environmental racism against my predominantly Latino community.”

The decision to allow the demolition in a working-class Latino neighborhood raises questions about unequal environmental protections for different parts of the city. Critics point out that such a project, with its potential for significant dust generation, might not have been approved in a wealthier, predominantly white neighborhood.


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Judge approves $12M settlement in botched Little Village smokestack demolition

Judge approves $12.25 million Hilco settlement over botched Little Village demolition

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