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Tents can be seen at a site where the state had planned to set up winterized base camps to house up to 1,500 migrants at South California Avenue and West 38th Street in Brighton Park on the Southwest Side.

Tents can be seen at a site where the state had planned to set up winterized base camps to house up to 1,500 migrants at South California Avenue and West 38th Street in Brighton Park on the Southwest Side.

Ashlee Rezin

Pritzker rejects toxic migrant shelter site in Brighton Park

Citing “serious environmental concerns,” Gov. JB Pritzker on Tuesday said the state is ending development of a proposed migrant camp in Brighton Park.

The decision follows the city of Chicago’s release of an environmental report Friday night that showed the location at 38th Street and California Avenue required cleanup of heavy metals and toxic chemicals.

The state halted construction Sunday.

“My administration is committed to keeping asylum seekers safe as we work to help them achieve independence,” Pritzker said in a statement. “We will not proceed with housing families on a site where serious environmental concerns are still present.”

The decision came after Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration on Monday publicly said the site can be made safe for temporary residential use by removing the harmful metals and other substances.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency disagreed, saying under its guidelines “insufficient sampling and remediation at the Brighton Park site does not meet state cleanup standards for residential use.”

The agency began reviewing the almost 800-page report prepared by a consultant to the city over the weekend. That report listed mercury, arsenic, lead and other contaminants on site.

“Given the significant time required to conduct additional sampling, to process and analyze results, and to implement corresponding further remediation, the state will work with the city to identify alternate shelter options,” the governor’s office said.

The halt once again highlights some of the behind-the-scenes divisions between the mayor and governor’s offices as they deal with the migrant crisis.

Speaking to reporters after an event on Tuesday, Johnson repeatedly said the state was aware an environmental impact study would be conducted and would likely reveal problems on the land.

“There was no indication throughout the entire process that a standard or a different methodology was preferable by the state of Illinois,” Johnson said of the state review.

As for a plan B, or an alternative site, Johnson criticized the state for not having opened a shelter on the former site of a CVS pharmacy in Little Village.

“We can’t wait six months before a decision is made in order for a site to be made available for a crisis,” Johnson said. “That’s happening today.”

The governor’s office said that site, which will provide 200 beds, would be open within the next two weeks.

The governor’s office has also requested alternate sites from the city, and the state is working with the Archdiocese of Chicago to explore other options.

The decision to scrap the Brighton Park tent site comes as more than 600 migrants remain camped out at police stations and O’Hare airport.

And Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) has sent a letter to Johnson asking that the Gage Park shelter be wound down, meaning no new admittances and confirmation that the people there have gotten their 60-day notices according to city policy.

Johnson said he wants “to make sure that we are removing people off of the floors of police stations,” adding, “the base camp was an option for us to be able to address this crisis.”

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), chair of the City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, welcomed the state’s decision.

“It makes sense to find the safest way possible because we don’t want situations where, years from now, we find out people are ill — especially when you’re talking about kids that are on that site,” Vasquez said. “It makes sense to do all our due diligence to treat people the way we would all want to be treated in that situation.”

Johnson pushed ahead with the plan for 38th and California despite weeks of protest from residents who objected to the site being used for a migrant camp.

Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th), who represents the area, ultimately opposed the project. Initially, she took the brunt of protesters’ anger.

Pritzker “made sure that we are stepping up to the responsibility of caring for the health of the immigrant families and residents by not continuing to use this lot as a shelter,” Ramirez said Tuesday. “We have to continue finding shelter that is safe for asylum seekers.”

The Brighton Park site wasn’t the city’s only potential tent location.

The other is the parking lot of a former Jewel-Osco in the Morgan Park neighborhood at 115th and Halsted.

Ald. Ronnie Mosley (21st) said that city crews had begun preparing the site by clearing it, repairing and providing water service lines and putting up fences.

Mosley said he had not heard back from the city about an environmental assessment of that site.

Pritzker has committed $65 million to build the tent camp. The governor’s office said it couldn’t provide an estimate for money that may be owed to construction contractor GardaWorld due to the site change.

Separately, the city has been leasing the Brighton Park land from a private owner since late October, agreeing to pay $91,400 a month.

Contributing: Michael Loria

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