Activists band together to bolster SE Side environment

2013-04-04T11:24:00Z 2013-04-04T22:18:03Z Activists band together to bolster SE Side environmentGregory Tejeda Times Correspondent
April 04, 2013 11:24 am  • 

CHICAGO | Members of assorted activist groups from across the city’s Southeast Side have decided they can be more successful in trying to protect the area’s environment if they work together.

The Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago held a meeting Wednesday at which they detailed their principles that include respect for nature; protect, preserve and restore the natural environment; including people from low-income and non-white communities; and greater community participation.

Among the groups comprising the new alliance are the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the G2G youth group affiliated with East Side United Methodist Church, the Altgeld Gardens-based People for Community Recovery, the Sierra Club and the New 10th Ward Community Service Organization.

Peggy Salazar, head of the Hegewisch neighborhood-based Southeast Environmental Task Force, said she thinks the cooperation makes her group’s efforts stronger.

“In the past when we formed partnerships on issues, we were more effective than we would have been on our own,” she said. “Our strength is greater if we get people together.”

She also said residents will benefit from working together if it means they can prevent problem projects from occurring in Southeast Side neighborhoods.

“It is easier for us to stop something than try to deal with it after the fact,” she said.

The group announced its intentions during a gathering at The Zone community center, 11731 Avenue O. Among the roughly 30 people attending the gathering was 10th Ward Alderman John Pope, who came to listen to the group’s intentions.

Although there have been issues in the past where these activists and Pope have disagreed — such as a proposal for a coal gasification plant at the former Republic Steel site near 116th Street and Burley Avenue — Salazar said she was pleased to see the alderman present at Wednesday’s gathering.

“I want to try to bring local politicians on board with us,” she said.

Also among those pleased with the effort was Alan Walts, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s office of enforcement and compliance for the Chicago-area.

“We do have a strong commitment to environmental justice,” Walts said. “We’re glad to see that people at the local level are taking this seriously.”

Walts also provided local activists with updates about several projects where environmental contamination is feared, including the River Bend Prairie Landfill at 138th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue that straddles the Chicago/Dolton border.

Many of the activists, along with Pope, opposed a proposal last year that would have allowed for expanded operations at the landfill. It is now in the process of being closed because it is reaching capacity.

Walts said an Illinois EPA inspection on Dec. 14, 2012, found instances of exposed refuse, but added that Land & Lakes Co. officials who operate the landfill addressed the problems within a week to the state’s satisfaction.

He said the landfill is likely to be closed completely by year’s end.

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