CHICAGO | The environmental activists who opposed development of a coal gasification plant at the one-time site of Republic Steel on the city's Southeast Side said Wednesday they support development of an “energy park” to convert existing silos along the Calumet River into a renewable clean energy resource.
Activists and area residents with the Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago met at The Zone community center, 11731 S. Ave. O, to review their opposition to many projects proposed for the 10th Ward. Those include the proposed plant near 114th Street and Burley Avenue that would have turned coal into a synthetic natural gas.
New York-based Leucadia National Corp. proposed the plant, but those plans were thwarted when Gov. Pat Quinn used his veto power to reject legislation that would have advanced the project. Company officials have said they are not seeking to have a veto override and will shift their attention to projects in other parts of the country.
That has the local activists both pleased and concerned.
That's because the site remains open. They used Wednesday's meeting to say they’d like to see development of a proposed Calumet Genesis Energy Park.
Judy Freeman, of the Green SEED Energy group, said such a project would stretch roughly from 118th Street to 122nd Street and would mostly be located west of Avenue O, although portions of the project at its southeast corner would cross the street.
The project, which would use a process called anaerobic digestion to create natural gas from organic waste, would include an energy center, materials transportation areas and a visitor’s center.
Freeman said the latter is particularly important because the energy park also would have to maintain habitats for local wildlife, which could serve to draw people to visit the neighborhoods of the 10th Ward.
“We would be putting the ‘park’ back into industrial park,” Freeman said, adding that wetlands would have to be enhanced in the area because parts of the site do not have sewer systems. “We would need to develop, and in some cases construct, wetlands,” she said.
Such a project differs from many development proposals that focus on potential industrial use of land on the Southeast Side. Freeman said she thinks that is wrong because the cost of environmental cleanup to allow for more traditional factories is excessive and makes it likely that nothing will be developed on the sites.
“The cost of remediating the land exceeds the value of the property,” she said.
Tom Shephard, of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, said he was pleased to hear such talk, saying so much of the focus of area residents and environmental activists has been to oppose projects.
“We can’t just be about stopping things,” he said. “We need to do things to create jobs for our part of the city.”
Rich Martinez, head of the New 10th Ward Community Service Organization, said he thinks having Lake Calumet and the Calumet River passing through the area, along with many railroad lines, ought to make the area attractive for development.