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man walking bicycle on sidewalk in dusty air

A massive dust cloud covered Little Village after a botched implosion of a former coal plant in April 2020.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

Johnson doubles down, appoints official negligent in Little Village dust storm debacle to run Buildings Department

Mayor Brandon Johnson officially appointed Marlene Hopkins, the Buildings Department employee who oversaw a botched implosion of a Little Village coal plant smokestack four years ago, to be the city’s top official responsible for making sure buildings, as well as demolitions, are safe for the public.

In a statement Wednesday, Johnson said Hopkins was “the ideal choice to lead the Department of Buildings as we work towards a safer, more prosperous Chicago for all.”

Hopkins, a city employee for the past 25 years, is the acting commissioner and most recently served as the first deputy commissioner of the Buildings Department.

Four years ago, she was responsible for making sure the implosion of an almost 400-foot smokestack for the former Crawford coal-fired power plant on Pulaski Road north of the Stevenson Expressway would be performed in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

When the stack came crashing down that Saturday of Easter weekend 2020, there was not enough water used to suppress the dust that created a severe public nuisance and threat to health. A giant cloud covered homes and other property with the dust.

There is a proposed settlement for $12.25 million in a class action brought by Little Village residents against developer Hilco Redevelopment, which owned the former coal plant, tore it down and built a more than 1 million-square-foot warehouse that is now being leased to retailer Target.

“Hopkins has been responsible for ensuring compliance with local, state and federal regulations,” Johnson said in his statement.

A report from Chicago’s former Inspector General Joe Ferguson recommended that Hopkins be disciplined for her role in the dust storm, which former Mayor Lori Lightfoot chose to ignore. The report was never officially released but was made public by the Sun-Times last year.

Community representatives in Little Village have asked Johnson to release the report.

Hopkins has not publicly talked about her role in the debacle.

“I am honored to take on this role and to continue serving the people of Chicago in a new capacity,” Hopkins said in a statement included in her promotion announcement.

Hopkins was named acting commissioner of the city’s Buildings Department last month after her former boss, Matthew Beaudet, was fired by Johnson.

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