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Confusion over start of construction of Chicago migrant tent camp as concerns about toxic pollution remain

Brighton Park migrant tent camp construction not starting yet
Brighton Park migrant tent camp construction not starting yet 02:54

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Plans to build a tent camp for migrants in Brighton Park hit a snag, with the start of construction stalled as the city scrambles to shelter asylum seekers from the dangerous winter weather.

Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th) said she was told by Mayor Brandon Johnson's office last week that construction on a tent camp for migrants would begin Monday at a vacant lot at 38th and California, but the mayor's office said that work won't begin just yet.

"Delivery and staging of equipment have been scheduled for today so construction can begin at a later date," a Johnson spokesperson said in an email.

There has been confusion over when construction will begin due to heavy metal contamination found in the soil at the site. The city is moving to clean up the contamination before putting up any tents.

According to published reports, the site was once owned by a railroad company, and included a zinc smelter. An assessment by the city reportedly found heavy metal contamination at the site.

"There was heavy metal identified. There was a remediation that took place last week," Ramirez said Monday.

Construction of Brighton Park migrant tent camp not starting yet 02:47

Protesters who have staged multiple rallies against the tent camp plan, and have repeatedly tried to block workers from reaching the site, have posted a sign stating "this land is contaminated."

Ramirez, who has said she opposes building the tent camp in Brighton Park, sent a letter to her constituents Saturday night informing them the mayor's office had told her construction on the tent camp would begin Monday, but the mayor's office later said construction is not yet happening.

The alderwoman said she found out Monday morning from reporters covering the issue that construction in Brighton Park would not begin yet.

"The city had let them know – not me, but them – that construction was not happening," she said.

Ramirez said it's something she would have liked to learn from the mayor's office.

"I would love to be able to share that as soon as possible," she said.

She said she's still trying to get her hands on the city's environmental assessment of the site, while remediation work at the site continues to clean up the contamination.

"I haven't seen any sort of physical report. Nothing has been sent to me directly," she said, adding that she's been told "they found soil that was toxic, that they would remove that soil, and that they would go through a process where the test results would come back positive and that that soil is no longer toxic."

The mayor's office said the city has been collecting information on the site, and analyzing preexisting conditions to determine any environmental impacts at this location. They said they will provide further information on the environmental assessment later this week.

"I have asked the administration to share as much as they could about that happening. They have not," Ramirez said. "We also should have a standard about the places that we're choosing, and where we're putting people in general, especially the most vulnerable, like our asylum-seekers."

Despite those concerns over toxic metals in the soil, the mayor's office said they're confident they can still use the site for migrant housing once they finish cleanup work.

Upon opening, the tent camp in Brighton Park will house roughly 500 migrants, but would eventually be equipped to take on 2,000.

The city also is continuing work on another proposed tent site at 115th and Halsted in Morgan Park. Crews are continuing to prepare the site for construction, and conducting an environmental assessment there, but as with the Brighton Park site, the city has yet to say when construction of any tents will begin.

But time is running out to meet the mayor's goal of getting the first tent camp built before winter. Chicago already has had temperatures drop below freezing the last few nights, with temperatures expected to dip into the teens Monday night.

City officials said 25 buses bringing migrants to Chicago arrived in the city last week, up from 18 the week before. While the number of asylum seekers arriving in Chicago is now trending upward again, the city has been making progress in clearing migrants out of police stations, with 8 of the city's 22 police stations cleared out as of Monday.

Approximately 2,600 migrants have arrived in Chicago so far in November, compared to 3,500 in October. As of Monday morning, nearly 1,200 migrants were living at police stations while waiting for placement in temporary shelters, down from more than 2,800 living at police stations at the beginning of November.

A total of 12,790 migrants were living in the city's 26 active shelters as of Monday, with another 165 staying at O'Hare International Airport awaiting placement in a shelter.

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