Activists opposed to the storage and handling of petcoke on Chicago’s Southeast side want it completely eliminated from their neighborhood, and on Monday some were willing to get arrested to prove it.
“We’re not willing to negotiate,” Kate Koval, a member of the grassroots Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, said Monday morning.
Koval joined about a dozen other activists in blocking two entrances into KCBX Terminals, the Koch Brothers-owned facility at 107th and Green Bay.
Koval says after a couple of years of fighting to get rid of petcoke, residents have had enough.
“We’re looking for clean, green industry. We need to change how we do business along the Calumet River and that change needs to start happening,” Koval said.
10th Ward Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza joined activists in blocking the entrance to KCBX.
The struggle between Southeast side residents and KCBX has endured for more than two years, and in that time, activists have had some successes. For instance, KCBX’s main source of petcoke, BP’s Whiting, Indiana Refinery no longer sends thousands of pounds of petcoke to the Southeast side.
The City of Chicago and State of Illinois have also clamped down hard on KCBX to reduce the amount of petcoke dust that can become airborne.
The company has responded by shuttering its north facility and spending millions on a new enclosed structure.
“We have invested more than $30 million in improvements, including a new dust suppression system at our Burley Avenue terminal. We recently closed our other terminal and we are committed to continuing to operate our remaining site on Burley Avenue in full compliance with Chicago’s new rules, which call for the enclosure or removal of all product piles by June of (2016),” KCBX spokesman Jake Reint said.
“Petroleum coke is an important product that has many uses, including energy generation and the production of cement, steel, aluminum and other specialty products. It is not considered toxic, but even so, KCBX has adopted practices to manage the potential for dust.”
Still, many Southeast side residents say they won’t be satisfied until KCBX leaves the area completely, even if that means taking some 50 jobs with it.
“Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he was going to get this stuff out of here. Either he can’t do it or he won’t do it,” Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Southeast Side Environmental Task Force, said. “We’re going to find a way to do it.”
It’s unclear how the protest affected KCBX’s operations. After about a half hour, trucks that had been lined up to enter the facility, turned around and headed toward another entrance that protesters had not blocked off.
Trucks line up at KCBX on Chicago’s SE side, unable to enter due to protestors blocking front gate.(photo provided) pic.twitter.com/o8quXSwzRP— Michael Puente (@MikePuenteNews) November 16, 2015
After about three hours, Chicago police moved in to arrest the dozen for trespassing.
KCBX says the request did not come from the company but from Calumet Transload Railroad, which relies on the rail line to transport its salt loads into the Southeast side.
Michael Puente is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @MikePuenteNews.