Mayor: West Chicago 'closer to the end' of environmental cleanup

West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda says he's looking forward to the day when the city isn't associated with the word “thorium.”

Events over the past year have shown that dream can become a reality.

Pineda said during Monday night's State of the City address that the community reached “a watershed moment” in November when a rail car carrying “the last remnants” of thorium waste from the former Kerr-McGee factory site pulled out of West Chicago.

The rail shipment came after officials spent decades and roughly $1.2 billion cleaning West Chicago sites polluted with radioactive thorium waste produced by the former factory.

“We have fought hard to rid our community of the fallout and stigma of the thorium reality which has plagued us for too long,” Pineda said to the large crowd that filled the council chambers at city hall to hear his speech.

While there's still work to be done to resolve issues with contaminated groundwater at the former factory site and finish a river restoration, Pineda said, “We are closer to the end of a very long chapter in the cleanup.”

City officials have long waited for the federal government to provide about $33 million to complete the project.

Pineda said officials got “some very good news” Friday when they learned that the environmental response trust overseeing the cleanup received a roughly $17.6 million reimbursement from the federal government. He thanked U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and other lawmakers from Illinois who helped make the funding possible.

“I will continue to advocate for our community so that this project stays on their radar” and that all the federal money due for the project is paid, Pineda said.

He said he eventually wants the former factory site to become “a beautiful, clean and safe park.”

Some of the other accomplishments Pineda highlighted during his 42-minute speech are:

• There are no new taxes, fees or rate increases in the city's 2016 budget.

• The appointment last year of Police Chief Michael Uplegger “has brought great efficiencies and a new operating structure to the department.”

• Railroad Days will once again be a four-day festival and be held July 7-10 at Pioneer Park.

• Beautification efforts in downtown included the city buying 10 new decorative planters and the Cultural Arts Commission's annual Community Banner Art Project. Pineda said 17 banners will be hung this week along Main Street.

• The city welcomed a list of new businesses since January 2015. Avian USA Machinery LLC, part of Avian Granulator Group, opened a 35,000-square-foot global hub facility. Meanwhile, DS Containers broke ground on distribution center that will have more than 550,000 square feet.

“The future is certainly looking bright,” Pineda concluded. “I look forward to the years ahead and to continue to pursue our collective vision together.”

Officials say more work still needs to be done to resolve issues with contaminated groundwater at the former Kerr-McGee factory site in West Chicago. Daily Herald file photo
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