Attendees line up and question panelists at the 12th Ward IPO's meeting on the MAT Asphalt plant on Wednesday, April 25, at the McKinley Park library.

Neighbors, Panelists Debate Asphalt Plant Project at Community Meeting

Published April 26, 2018

The Wednesday, April 25, community meeting about the new MAT Asphalt plant packed a capacity crowd into the main room of the McKinley Park branch of the Chicago Public Library. The meeting, organized by the 12th Ward Independent Political Organization, brought together panelists representing MAT Asphalt, the 12th Ward, residents and local environmental activists. It attracted so many attendees that latecomers had to be turned away at the door, unable to squeeze into the standing-room-only event.

Panelists included 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas, McKinley Park neighborhood resident Kim Wasserman of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Olga Bautista of Our City Our Voice, neighborhood resident and environmental scientist Amber Cicotte and Joe Haughey and Tony Sanchez, representing two of the three businesses partnered to create MAT Asphalt LLC. 12th Ward IPO President Billy Drew hosted and emceed the meeting.

Kim Wasserman speaks at the community meeting of the new asphalt plant.Kim Wasserman speaks at the community meeting about the new asphalt plant.Panelists and attendees addressed many issues throughout the course of the 1-1/2 hour long meeting. Significant new information about the project included announcement of an estimated level of truck traffic of 100 to 200 asphalt trucks per day traveling along Pershing Road to and from the MAT Asphalt site at 4010 S. Damen Ave.

Additional pollution and congestion from the trucks stood out as one of the many community concerns about the new facility. "We would like to see a transportation plan," Cicotte said.

Cardenas faced intense questioning from audience members and panelists about both the plant and the process involved with shepherding its arrival into the neighborhood. He noted the motivation of bringing jobs to the area and said his office plans to implement better processes of community notification for new development.

Haughey and Sanchez outlined the process of creating asphalt, a non-toxic product in its finished form, and explained operational details about their business, including how they'll manage the cleanliness of the site and asphalt trucks, and the modern and environmentally sound nature of the all-new equipment at the plant.

Joe Hoyt explains the ingredients used to make asphalt.Joe Haughey explains the ingredients used to make asphalt.The MAT Asphalt representatives also emphasized their existing, longtime connections to the community and their desire to do right by the neighborhood. "We want to be transparent," Sanchez said.

Although Haughey and Cardenas said that plant tours and a phone number to call about plant problems would be available, specific details were not disclosed at the meeting. Earlier in April, MAT Asphalt conducted a plant tour for members of the McKinley Park Civic Association, and the business has extended this offer to other neighborhood groups.

Both Wasserman and Bautista said that existing regulation is inadequate to protect communities from environmental harm caused by industry. "The problem is in the process," Wasserman said, adding that by the time a development project gets to the city's planning commission, it's essentially a done deal. "We as residents do not have a voice in the process."

"Permits ... don't go far enough," Bautista said. "It's a race to the bottom." She recommended stronger environmental regulation as a necessity.

Bautista also said it was disingenuous to pit residents' environmental and economic interests against each other. "We shouldn't have to choose between jobs and clean air," she said.

Many resources related to the asphalt plant project and related issues were announced at the meeting. The 12th Ward IPO live-streamed the event on Facebook; the video can be viewed here:  

Other resources announced at the meeting included a new, local air quality sensor. Based on his concerns about the new asphalt plant, a neighborhood resident funded a local air quality monitor at West 38th and South Wood streets, Drew said. This offers real-time and historical air quality information, and it's available online at http://bit.ly/mckinleyparkair.

Another resource announced at the meeting is a growing base of information on the project, including related media mentions and official documents, put together by neighborhood residents Lucy Stanfield and Anthony Moser. This is published on the Google Drive service and is accessible online via http://bit.ly/asphaltplant.

In his introduction at the meeting, Drew specified a number of ideas for improving community integration for both the asphalt plant project and future development. The alderman should be transparent, follow best practices for development, conduct regular community meetings and quickly implement a traffic and transportation study for Pershing Road, Drew said.

Bigger-picture changes should include implementation of a community-driven zoning process and passage of meaningful environmental legislation at the city level, he said.

As for the MAT Asphalt project, Drew said "I'm cautiously optimistic," as long as plant operators abide by regulations and follow up on their promises.

Drew announced that the 12th Ward IPO will hold another community meeting in August 2018 to assess the performance, impact and integration of the asphalt plant into the McKinley Park neighborhood.


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