CHICAGO | Nearly 100 south Chicago residents rallied outside the Thompson Center on Wednesday to protest a proposed coal-to-gas plant planned for industrial neighborhoods along the Illinois/Indiana border.
They were backed up by about 30 members of the Sierra Club and other environmental activists, marching in circles around the state government building before delivering petitions to aides for Gov. Pat Quinn.
The plant Leucadia Energy wants to build at 116th Street and Burley Avenue in the East Side neighborhood would merely pollute the southeastern corner of Chicago more than it already is, critics said.
The plant would be built only if Quinn approves a new law requiring utilities that purchase power from Leucadia to maintain 30-year-contracts. Residents of Hegewisch, South Deering and South Chicago want Quinn to veto that bill, which was approved by the Illinois Senate in January.
Tom Shepherd, a board member of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, said he believes most of the legislators who voted to approve this bill didn't understand what they were voting for.
"It was passed in the waning hours of the Legislature, and it was done so without any community input," he said.
Juan Huizar, an East Side resident who lives three blocks from the proposed plant site, said residents felt compelled to protest after hearing Quinn say he wanted to hear from "the people" before making a decision.
"We are the people. We're here telling him what's wrong," Huizar said. "Now, we hope he vetoes it."
The plan also has supporters. Pastor Walter P. Turner of the New Spiritual Light Missionary Baptist Church in South Shore said jobs created by the plant are desperately needed throughout the South Side.
Turner also said that turning away the Leucadia proposal likely means the site will not be developed in any way.
"It will sit vacant now, and 10 years from now," he said.
Rich Martinez, who lost a bid for 10th Ward alderman in last month's municipal election -- in part because he said labor unions did not like his stance against the Leucadia plant -- does not think the promise of new jobs is sufficient to justify the project.
"I can understand that (the unions) want to put their people to work for three years" while the plant is built, Martinez said. "But then, they go home and we're stuck with this for the rest of our lives."