Chicago moves ahead with Brighton Park migrant site despite potential contamination

Chicago moves ahead with Brighton Park migrant site despite potential contamination

The city of Chicago is moving forward with creating a base camp for migrants in the Brighton Park neighborhood despite lingering questions over potential contamination at the site.

NBC 5 Investigates watched as truckloads of gravel were hauled in Tuesday afternoon as pavers rolled back and forth over the site’s surface.

Records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show the vacant lot near 38th Street and California has a history of industrial use that dates back nearly a century.

During a morning news conference Tuesday, Mayor Brandon Johnson said an environmental assessment was still ongoing and a full report is expected to be available by the end of the week.

The location near 38th Street and California has drawn public criticism and a lawsuit from area residents who have criticized the Johnson administration’s information sharing and transparency surrounding the site selection.

Records by NBC 5 Investigates show the site was once used as a zinc smelter and was part of a railyard.

Over the weekend, Ald. Julia Ramirez, whose ward includes the site, posted a letter to social media noting that there’s been “bad communication” and a “lack of transparency from the city” regarding the site – adding that her office was made aware of “toxic metals in the soil.”

When NBC 5 Investigates asked Johnson Tuesday to confirm what specific contaminants had been located at the site, Johnson said “the assessment is ongoing” and “the full report will be provided by the end of the week.”

“I hear your question, you’ve asked why are we still moving forward – because that’s the process we’ve been administrating from the very beginning,” Johnson said when pressed further about the city’s approach to move forward without the environmental assessment.

Johnson went on to say that information is not being withheld and that the aldermen and community partners have been made aware of the process. He added that, historically, his office has identified and then assessed potential sites for migrants.

“This notion that there’s been a lack of information or transparency, I call false on that,” he said when pressed by a reporter about the criticism of his administration’s transparency. “I have told the truth… and I will always tell the truth.”

Johnson pointed to community meetings, press conferences and contracts that have been reported on dating back to September when it was announced that the city had inked a $29 million contract with GardaWorld to create a proposed “tent city” base camp that could house up ton 2,000 migrants.

A spokesman for Johnson said that GardaWorld delivered “multiple pieces of equipment and materials for the base camp” on Monday. On Tuesday, GardaWorld was set to lay out materials, measure and begin placing base structures on the site.

“If there are no complications, erection of the base camp may begin as early as Wednesday, Nov. 29,” the spokesman said. “… common mitigation strategies are ongoing and anticipated for completion by the end of this week, weather permitting. The City is confident that the property will be suited for the purpose for which it will be used.”

Earlier this month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that the state would help with operations of the base camp among other efforts as part kicking in an additional $160 million in funding to help with the migrant crisis.

Since last August, more than 22,000 migrants have re-settled in the Chicago area.

Johnson’s comments Tuesday came as he announced additional efforts by the faith community to help ease the city’s burden on finding housing for migrants and removing them from sleeping outside of Chicago police stations as winter approaches.

Senior Pastor John Zayas announced that 17 Chicago-area churches will begin playing host to migrants in the coming days. Zayas later told reporters the churches will act as temporary shelters for up to 20 migrants at a time for a period of up to 60 days. During that time, the churches will work with city providers to help provide “wrap around” services for migrants who are seeking housing or work.