CHICAGO | Officials with the KCBX Terminals Co., which has mounds of petroleum coke stored openly along the Calumet River, said Monday they are willing to work with government to regulate storage of the byproduct, if the regulations are “reasonable.”
Not many of the 100 residents of the East Side, South Chicago and surrounding neighborhoods who attended a city government hearing on the issue were sympathetic to the company.
The residents used a city Public Health Department hearing at St. Simeon’s Hall to express their outrage at having the substance so close to their homes.
“The only remedy is the complete and total removal of petcoke from our communities,” said Richard Martinez, an East Side neighborhood activist and head of the Environmental Justice Alliance of Southeast Chicago.
The residents listened to a presentation from Public Health Department attorney Jennifer Hesse about an ordinance pending before the Chicago City Council that would regulate the storage and transportation of petcoke within city limits.
Many residents were inclined to agree with Southeast Environmental Task Force President Peggy Salazar, who said the regulations are too lax because they give companies years to get themselves into compliance.
“This seems to us like the city wants the companies to regulate themselves,” Salazar said.
She said she was equally unimpressed with Gov. Pat Quinn, who on Monday visited the South Chicago neighborhood to talk of having the state impose its petcoke regulations.
“Maybe the governor wants us to think he’s doing something, but he really isn’t,” she said.
Mike Estadt, an operations manager for KCBX, said the company already is talking with the Environmental Protection Agency about facilities for indoor petcoke storage. He said, city regulations meant to prevent structures from being built 660 feet from schools, parks or hospitals are too strict.
“We’re willing to build a structure, but we want the rules clarified,” Estadt said. “Some of them, if interpreted literally, could mean much of our facility (on 100th Street at the Calumet River) would have to close.”
Tom Wolf, of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said he believes city government could wind up harming business interests.
“(Petcoke environmental concerns) are better addressed by state and federal regulations that already are on the books,” he said.
Wolf and Estadt were greeted by the crowd with “hisses” and “boos,” an occasional obscenity and even a chant of “Go back to Winnetka!”
Tenth Ward Alderman John Pope said he understands the hostility of residents who don’t like having petcoke lying around in piles in their neighborhood. Pope said he thinks Quinn’s actions complement what the City Council hopes to approve later this spring by ensuring petcoke is restricted equally across Illinois.
He also said he likes the idea of city government being involved along with state and federal officials.
“This only goes to show how serious the issue is that all levels of government are taking an interest,” Pope said.