Scrap metal recycler General Iron reaches deal to vacate North Side site

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot, nullifying a lame-duck move by her predecessor, announced a deal Wednesday with General Iron Industries that calls for the scrap recycler to shut down on the North Side by the end of 2020.

Late in the tenure of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the company got extended permits to let it operate through February 2022. Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who represents neighbors close to the plant, praised Lightfoot for reacting to a problem he brought to her attention.

Emanuel’s move was underhanded and done because he knew Hopkins planned public hearings this summer on pollution that emanates from the company, the alderman said. “Under the cover of darkness, they rushed through a renewal with no public hearings, nothing,” he said.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for General Iron, said the company got no special favors from Emanuel. He said it always intended to depart the North Side by the end of 2020. “This agreement just cements the path for doing that,” Samborn said.

Hopkins said General Iron was the lone action item he brought to Lightfoot after she took office.

The company plans to move to a Southeast Side facility with state-of-the-art equipment designed to minimize emissions. In the meantime, the agreement requires the company to meet all regulatory standards and to improve traffic control as it winds down operations at 1909 N. Clifton Ave.

Hopkins said the agreement will require General Iron to drastically curtail emissions that result in metallic dust accumulating on cars and windowsills. Neighborhoods downwind of the plant have reported high rates of asthma, he said.

The Emanuel extension lengthened the company’s operating hours, while the Lightfoot agreement will limit its work to between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. as allowed under city code.

“The city’s new agreement with General Iron will ensure the company meets all applicable environmental regulations and operating requirements under its current permit and will provide a clear timeline for its eventual relocation,” said Corporation Counsel Mark Flessner.

General Iron, owned by the Labkon family, has an agreement to move to 11600 S. Burley Ave. As part of the shift, the company is being purchased by Reserve Management Group, a specialist in recycling and scrap metal processing with operations in nine states.

The environmental equipment it will deploy on the Southeast Side will include an enclosed shredder equipped with suction hoods, high efficiency filters, solar panels and air monitoring technologies.

The company’s commitments satisfied Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, whose 10th Ward covers the Southeast Side. In a statement from the mayor’s office, the alderman said, “After working alongside the city and General Iron to carefully review the company’s proposal, we are confident in the current plans to protect the environmental health of our community while allowing additional jobs for our residents. I commend the City of Chicago for taking the initiative to broker this agreement that will give all parties even greater assurance that the company will exhaust all environmental measures as part of its relocation and expansion to the 10th Ward.”

“We are grateful for the mayor and her team’s leadership in forging an appropriate compromise to support the continuity of the critical service that General Iron has performed for more than a century,” said Adam Labkon, vice president of General Iron. “We are excited that this new venture, led by RMG, will continue providing more than 100 jobs and critical metal recycling services.”

The company’s North Side property of about 24 acres is not part of the nearby Lincoln Yards project but it is within the tax increment financing district created to subsidize the ambitious development.

Hopkins said community members have suggested General Iron’s property could become a park. “One step at a time,” he said when asked if he supports the idea.

He said environmental mediation will be difficult. A portion of the land years ago hosted a manufacturing plant for the now banned substance DDT, before General Iron’s ownership, Hopkins said.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said in an email to her community that the property should become a park and nature preserve. “We are grateful to the Lightfoot administration for stepping up to support our community and to provide finality as General Iron completes its move to the South Side,” she said.

General Iron said it recycles about 740,000 tons of metal annually, about what Chicago collects in garbage each year.

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