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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
David Struett

Construction of winter tents for migrants in Brighton Park to start Monday

Protesters blocks a city tractor from leaving a city-owned lot at 38th and California this month. The city plans to set up winterized base camps to house up to 1,500 migrants on the land that once housed a zinc smelter. (Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times)

Crews will begin constructing winter tents meant to house up to 1,500 migrants in Brighton Park on Monday, the local alderperson says.

The city is moving forward with the camp at 38th Street and California Avenue despite not sharing a study that shows the former industrial site needs to be cleaned of toxic metals, Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th) said in a letter released Saturday night.

Contractor GardaWorld is expected to begin the final phase of construction Monday, Ramirez said in the letter, while distancing herself from Mayor Brandon Johnson’s choice to continue with the project.

“Let me be clear: I am opposed to the construction of this site, especially as the full environmental impact study results have not been shared with my office or with the community,” Ramirez said in the letter.

On Sunday, the mayor’s office said “the city is confident that the property will be suited for the purpose for which it will be used. Additional details regarding environmental information will be provided this week.”

The property, previously owned by a railroad company, at one point included a zinc smelter, the Sun-Times has reported. The city said it has cleaned the site of chemicals, but Ramirez said it was not enough to ensure the health of anyone who may live there.

Construction crews with the Chicago Department of Water Management work on a lot owned by the city at 38th Street and California Avenue. (Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times)

“We have been made aware that toxic metals are present in the soil, and although remediation has been done, after a history of bad communication and lack of transparency from the city, this is not enough to assure the safety and health of the new arrivals expected to live on the site,” the freshman alderperson said.

As temperatures drop and snow falls, the city is facing pressure to find warm places to shelter thousands of migrants, many of them who fled desperate conditions in Venezuela. More than 1,400 migrants remain camped out at Chicago police stations, according to the city. Another 160 are at O’Hare Airport.

Ramirez has faced heat from her constituents over the plan that she says Johnson’s office hadn’t consulted her about. Construction crews have been preparing the site for weeks as protesters camped outside it.

Residents have protested outside the Southwest Side lot since they learned that it was under consideration to become the first of Johnson’s “winterized base camps.” At one demonstration, protesters attacked Ramirez and an aide.

Work on another possible migrant camp site at 115th and Halsted streets also is underway.

Johnson has said he will begin removing migrants from temporary shelters in January.

Around 25,000 migrants have been bused or flown to Chicago, mostly from Texas, since August 2022.

Contributing: Brett Chase

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