Controversial West Chicago trash site halted by state board

Some West Chicago residents objected to a plan to haul trash from Naperville and other communities in DuPage County to their largely Latino community.

Mark Black / For the Sun-Times

A controversial proposal to add a sizable garbage operation in West Chicago will not move forward after a state panel ruled that the city had failed to notify all nearby property owners and therefore didn’t have authority to proceed with the plan.

The decision by the Illinois Pollution Control Board delays but doesn’t kill the project, which was opposed by some Latino residents who called the plan racist. Opponents said that their community would be a landing place for garbage hauled from white communities, including Naperville and Wheaton.

The Illinois Pollution Control Board ruled Thursday that the city didn’t follow a guideline to contact every landowner in the area. Since that didn’t happen, the city didn’t have the jurisdiction to go forward with any plan.

The board, urged by residents to reject the waste station, didn’t rule on the merits of opponents’ arguments that the trash plan was overly burdensome and discriminatory.

That gives the city and trash hauler LRS an option to start the process over or appeal it in court.

West Chicago officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

LRS declined to comment through a spokesman, who said the company was reviewing the board’s ruling.

A lawyer for the company last year chided residents, accusing them of starting a “culture war” over the controversy.

The four-member board, appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, makes decisions in environmental protection matters under state law. The city gave LRS the go-ahead to plan its garbage operation — estimated to bring in 650 tons of solid waste a day, but the state board had to also sign off.

Residents had argued to the state that the city pushed the plans through without fully engaging with the public. They complained that the site would bring in hundreds of trucks and tons of garbage.

Even if the project is only delayed rather than terminated, one of the petitioners seeking to block the LRS operation said the decision by the state panel was a win for the community.

“It gives people in the community time to digest what happened,” said Julieta Alcántar-Garcia, an opponent of the project. “This woke them up.”

The fight in West Chicago raised the concern that a community of color was getting stuck with trash from predominantly white communities around DuPage County.

West Chicago, with a population that is roughly half Latino, already houses DuPage County’s only garbage-transfer station, which is an in-between stop before trash is hauled to a landfill.

LRS, formerly known as Lakeshore Recycling Systems, won approval from the west suburban city to place the second garbage-transfer site in an industrial area near the DuPage Airport.

Two groups of residents were represented by different lawyers, filing separate petitions with the state that were ultimately combined.

Robert Weinstock, who represents Alcántar-Garcia and other residents through the Northwestern University Environmental Advocacy Center, said he was “disappointed” the objections of the residents weren’t considered.

Ricardo Meza, a lawyer representing other residents in the case, said, “We hope that today’s ruling puts an end to any further efforts to place another dump in West Chicago.”

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