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Illinois pauses construction of Chicago migrant tent camp in Brighton Park

Construction halted on Chicago's first migrant tent camp
Construction halted on Chicago's first migrant tent camp 02:21

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Construction of Chicago's first winterized tent camp for migrants in Brighton Park is on hold, as the state reviews a city environmental report that found contaminated soil on the site.

"The State has temporarily paused construction at the Brighton Park site pending [the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's] review of the environmental report. IEPA has some outstanding questions they are hopeful they can work through today," Gov. JB Pritzker's spokeswoman, Jordan Abudayyeh, said in an email.

The IEPA is reviewing an 800-page environmental review from the city that prompted the removal of contaminated soil on the site at 38th and California.

Monday afternoon, Pritzker said he expects the results of the IEPA review to be completed and released "sometime very soon."  

Construction paused at Chicago migrant tent camp site 02:29

The state is funding construction of the tent encampment. Last week, Pritzker's office announced $65 million in funding for the Brighton Park site and for a brick-and-mortar shelter for migrants at a shuttered CVS pharmacy in Little Village.

Mayor Brandon Johnson's office confirmed work at the Brighton Park site is on hold while IEPA reviews the city's environmental assessment of the site.

"According to the report, soil with mercury levels was identified at one location and was removed and properly disposed offsite at a landfill, and with the limited soil removal and placement and maintenance of the barrier, the site is safe for temporary residential use," Johnson's office said Monday morning. "Further base camp construction and remediation of an additional 1 ft. x 1 ft. x 1 ft. area of the 9.5-acre site will continue per the timeline set by the State of Illinois. There is no construction or remediation scheduled at this time. The City will share assessment of subsequent remediation as it becomes available."

Neighbors reported seeing staff go in and out of the site on Monday. City officials said there is still work to be done to address the environmental issues cited in the report, but maintained the site is cleaner than before they started work on the migrant camp.

Construction on the tent site in Brighton Park began last week. 

Over the weekend, city officials said over the weekend that the site is safe to house as many as 2,000 migrants, after releasing an environmental review that prompted remediation work on the site, including removal of contaminated soil.

State conducting environmental review of Brighton Park tent camp site 01:54

The city's Department of Assets, Information, and Services contracted with Terracon Consultants Inc. to conduct an environmental assessment of the site at 3710 S. California Ave. Terracon conducted a field investigation that involved soil, groundwater, and soil gas sampling.

After taking the samples, the contractor compared them to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's remediation standards for residential use, the city said. Soil with mercury levels was found at one spot on the site, and was removed and disposed of in a landfill, the city said.

Soil with a high level of a semi-volatile compound was also found on the site, and will be removed, the city said.

The city released a report from Terracon measuring nearly 800 pages. It also documented the discovery of arsenic, lead, and other chemicals at the site.

The Department of Assets, Information, and Services also said a barrier of crushed clean stone with a minimum thickness of 6 inches will be placed along the surface of the site.

With the barrier and limited soil removal, the city deemed the site safe for temporary residential use.

Meantime, a Cook County judge on Monday denied a request for a court order blocking construction on the site. Neighbors opposed to the project had filed a lawsuit one month ago seeking to stop the camp from being built.

The lawsuit claimed the plan for the site ignores city code and zoning law and asked for a temporary, and eventually a permanent, injunction against putting a migrant tent base camp there to prevent what residents called "irreparable harm."

However, a judge ruled Monday that a temporary restraining order blocking construction is not necessary with the state having already paused work on the site. The judge said the city will be required to notify the plaintiffs in the lawsuit before resuming any work if and when the state gives the go-ahead for the project to move forward.  

It was a small win for opponents of the migrant camp, who have been pushing for more transparency from the city.

"The city has been dishonest, liars, untruthful, not transparent. The city is not an honest broker, but what I will do is keep them accountable, and if they do lie, and if they're not transparent, then I will hold them in a court in contempt," said Frank Avila, an attorney for the neighbors suing to block the tent camp.

During Monday's court hearing, in response to concerns that migrants, especially children, could be exposed to contaminated soil, an attorney for the city said the six-inch crushed stone barrier the city has laid down will prevent anyone from ingesting any contaminants still on the site.

Avila wasn't convinced.

"A kid can move 6 inches of dirt," he said.

While crews made significant progress on erecting tents at the site before work was paused, it remains unclear when or if migrants will begin moving in.

City officials have not said what will happen if the IEPA does not sign off on the migrant tent camp. They would only say the timeline for the Brighton Park plan is in the hands of the state.

The city is leasing the site for more than $91,000 a month. The city also has signed a $29 million contract with private security firm GardaWorld to set up the city's proposed winterized tent camps.

The city also is continuing work on another proposed tent site at 115th and Halsted streets in Morgan Park, but it's unclear if and when any tents will actually go up there. The city last month began an environmental analysis of that site, but has not released any results.

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