[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or over 10 years, residents and activists have fought to close down the Fisk and Crawford power plants located in Pilsen and Little Village. They argued that pollution coming from the power plants was contributing to the illnesses affecting their communities and, although the plants brought power to about one million homes, they were the two biggest industrial sources of carbon dioxide emissions in Chicago.
Finally, in August 2012, after a decade-long struggle, and with a last-minute push from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Fisk plant closed its doors and on December, Edison Mission Energy filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection.
The Fisk Generating Station located on 1111 W. Cermak Road in the Pilsen neighborhood sits near the south branch of the Chicago River. On the other side of the street is Dvorak Park. It seems strange that a power plant responsible for emitting toxic chemicals that have been linked to increasing health risks in the community sat so close to a children’s playground, but that was the case for several years.
According to a 2002 Harvard School of Public Health study, older power plants were exempt from modern emission standards that are required of new plants under the Clean Air Act. As a result, the emissions released by older plants like Fisk pose greater health risks than emissions from newer facilities. The health risks include increased mortality rates and asthma.
Now, residents are excited about the prospect of seeing the site cleaned up with hopes of turning it into something beneficial for the community. On Jan. 18, Emanuel issued a press release stating that the Chicago Transit Authority and NRG Energy have entered into a memorandum of understanding regarding the redevelopment of the Fisk coal plant site. Emanuel was joined by Ald. Danny Solis and the leaders of the Fisk and Crawford Reuse Task Force. Soon, NRG Energy and the CTA will begin going over details of a potential construction of a bus garage and maintenance facility—a project which could create job opportunities and a healthier community. It could also mean the CTA will save around $2 million in fuel and operational costs every year.
Along with the potential creation of a new CTA facility, sections of the site along the Chicago River would be set aside as open space and developed into a park.
“I think it’s great for the community,” said Pilsen resident Erika Torres. “The air will be less polluted for the residents with the demolition of the plants. A park can promote a healthy lifestyle for both children and adults and the garage could potentially create more job opportunities, all wonderful things to look forward to,” she said.
Not everyone agrees, however. Alfredo Garcia argues that a CTA facility should not be created on that site. “I think it should just be turned into a park—that site should be for the residents of the community and the city.”
“Removing these power plants was the first step in a process that is now moving forward,” Solis said in the press release. “I am eager to bring this community to a place where people can enjoy a higher quality of life and better paying jobs.”
Although the project is moving forward, it will likely be several years before it is complete. The power plant will require asbestos removal and, depending on what is found, the soil will probably have to be decontaminated. But for many Pilsen residents, revitalizing their community is more important than the wait.
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