Construction paused at Brighton Park migrant shelter pending environmental review

Construction was halted at a Southwest Side migrant encampment Monday – mere hours after city officials said the site was still "safe for temporary residential use."

The 9.5-acre lot located at 38th Street and California Avenue has been the subject of heated debate since October, when residents discovered the City of Chicago was planning to utilize it for migrant housing.

Now, the Johnson Administration has hit another roadblock in its controversial project, following the discovery of high levels of mercury and other contaminants at the site.

Despite the city claiming that the land is ‘safe,’ Governor J.B. Pritzker, on Monday, ordered construction to stop.

A state official confirmed to FOX 32 Chicago that construction of the migrant encampment has been paused pending review by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

"It is not safe for human beings to live on land that [is] polluted," said Dr. Kim Tee, community activist.

Neighbors have been sounding the alarm since the start – calling the safety of the site into question, and revealing that previous attempts to use the land failed due to environmental concerns.

For the first time in weeks, the lot fell silent Monday.

Construction crews had swiftly been bringing the winterized 'tent city' to life, but the discoveries outlined in a nearly 800-page report have put a pause on their progress.

Several weeks ago, the City of Chicago contracted Terracon Consultants, Inc. to investigate the soil at the site. The consultants' report, made public on Friday, Dec. 1, indicated soil with mercury levels was found at the location. The contaminated soil was removed and properly disposed of, according to city officials, who deemed the site safe.

"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," the statement reads.

However, based on the latest move by the governor, those results are cause for concern – and residents agree.

"If they say they finished the remedy, they should test the soil again to confirm the land is safe," said Sandra Mei, community member.

Consultants also found arsenic, lead, and PCB chemicals in the soil. PCBs were banned in the United States in 1979 because they can harm human and environmental health.

Local residents have long been protesting the project, saying it doesn’t meet zoning requirements and that the soil at the site, which has a history of industrial use, is toxic.

"We hope the results will kill this project. We think it’s unfair to put migrants on a site that has an industrial history," said Michael Lin, community member.

At an unrelated event Monday morning, Mayor Johnson ignored questions from the media about the results of the environmental study.

"To me, it is negligent and no regard for life," said Tee.

In early November, a group of Brighton Park residents filed a lawsuit over the encampment, seeking a temporary restraining order.

On Monday, a court hearing was held following the state's decision to temporarily suspend construction, and a judge found it unnecessary to grant the TRO. However, during the proceedings, the judge encouraged the city to be more transparent with residents.

While city officials have not yet revealed a move-in date for migrants, they previously stated that once the build starts, the encampment will be finished in a matter of days.

The temperature-controlled structures are being built by the security firm GardaWorld Federal Services, based in Canada, and will include bathrooms, showers and even a mobile kitchen.

The city is paying nearly $92,000 per month to lease the lot. That comes on top of the $29 million contract it signed with GardaWorld in September to build migrant base camps across the city.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.