Law of the Land Visits South Works, Former U.S. Steel Site

John Holler '16
November 13, 2013

On November 2, seventeen intrepid law students braved the winds off Lake Michigan to visit South Works, the site of the former U.S. Steel plant in South Chicago.   Law of the Land, in cooperation with the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic and the Housing Initiative Clinic, hosted a visit of the South Works site, giving students a hands-on examination of the confluence of environmental, housing, and land use issues associated with the site’s development. 

The students first visited the Lakeside Marketing Center, the operations base for McCaffery Interests, the landowner and developer of South Works.  The marketing center exhibits provided an overview of the history of U.S. Steel, the steps that the City and state of Illinois have taken to remediate and prepare the site, and McCaffery’s development plans for the future.

At the marketing center, the students were joined by Steve Holler ’90, the former Deputy Corporation Counsel of the City of Chicago Law Department’s Real Estate Division, and Karen Roothaan, a resident of the adjacent Bush community and volunteer with the Southeast Environmental Task Force.  Mr. Holler provided background information on the site’s zoning, including the approval processes for obtaining TIF funding from the City and a No Further Remediation letter from the Illinois EPA.  Ms. Roothaan pointed out some of the potential remaining environmental issues with the area, including the possible need for remediation of the power plant site and the potential arsenic contamination of the slip.

After the site overview, the students toured a small part of South Works along 87th and Lake Michigan.  Students walked through the grounds of the old steel mill power plant, then along the public park on the Calumet Harbor and the ore barge slip.  Students examined pieces of slag and climbed on the three remaining ore walls, the 2000-foot-long, 30-foot-high testaments to the former might of the Chicago steel mills.

Following the tour, the students listened to a panel over lunch at Villa Guadelupe, a senior living facility on 91st Street developed by Claretian Associates, an affordable housing and community services non-profit organization based in South Chicago.  Angela Hurlock, the executive director of Claretian Associates, joined Mr. Holler and Ms. Roothaan on the panel to discuss the housing development issues with the site.  Clinical Professor Jeff Leslie served as moderator.

The panelists emphasized the need for a holistic, community-based approach to the site’s development.  Given the site’s size and the scope of the environmental and infrastructural issues associated with its development, South Works will need at least 50 years to build out fully.  Despite the many challenges facing the site, the panelists expressed hope for collaborative and fruitful investment in the South Chicago community.

 

Law of the Land is a new LSA-approved student organization devoted to exploring environmental, housing, and land use issues physically grounded in Chicago.  For more information on Law of the Land, please contact John Holler at jholler@uchicago.edu