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Mexican Community to Celebrate Feast Day

Frigid Chicago temperatures mean traditional pilgrimages to church will mark few area celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas believed by Roman Catholics to have appeared in 1531 to Saint Juan Diego near the site of the future Mexico City. But thousands of Mexican Americans will celebrate the miracles that historians credit with sparking mass conversions to Roman Catholicism on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Monday December 12.

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church, 3200 E. 91st St.–the first Spanish parish in the Midwest, built in the early 1920s to serve Chicago’s newly arriving Mexican-American population–dancing, singing and performances by children and cultural groups have been taking place since the beginning of the Novena of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 3, according to Father Marco Cardenas, who became pastor of the 2,000-family parish in September.

Cardenas says that while most Latino churches will celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, his church is known for presenting one of the largest and most traditional celebrations in the region.

“Parishioners and old-time parishioners will attend on December 12,” Cardenas says. “A lot don’t live in the area anymore–some come from as far as Elgin and Skokie.” Some 4,000 people will visit the church Monday, beginning at 4 a.m. for singing, followed by Cardenas’ leading a 6 a.m. mass after which Mexican breakfast will be served in the church basement to the accompaniment of mariachi music. Cardenas will lead another mass at 7 p.m., followed again by food and music in the evening. The church will remain open until 10 p.m.

Before mass, the music and performance will include Aztec dances; the masses will feature musicians and singers performing songs associated with the holiday, such as Mi Virgen Franchera (My Dear Virgin) and Las Mananitas. “When it comes to this day not all the singing is strictly religious,” Cardenas adds. “Some are just popular songs, and many of the performers are not choirs from churches, just regular musicians” who volunteer to perform.

Cardenas, who is originally from Durango, Mexico but has been a priest elsewhere in Chicago and the U.S. for many years, notes that in Mexico, “Pilgrimages are very common-groups of merchants or social or sport clubs gather together and walk to the church.” Here, though, it’s often too cold in December for pilgrimages. However, there has been some interest from parishioners this year in keeping the church open all night December 11 to accommodate the numbers of people who wish to observe the saint’s day.

–Gordon Mayer

Down in the Dumps’ Tour

The Southeast Environmental Task Force and Citizens for Landfill Alternatives will host a narrated bus tour of landfills and other waste facilities in the Calumet region on Saturday, July 30, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Long the city’s major garbage receptacle, the Southeast Side no longer receives municipal solid waste, although privately-collected waste (including hazardous waste) is still landfilled at a Waste Management site, and the area still hosts giant garbage transfer stations, said Tom Shepherd of SETF. And the still-active Land of Lakes landfill is just across the Calumet River in Dalton.

The tour will visit landfills — including several notorious illegal dumps, now closed but not yet cleaned up — as well as recycling centers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s wastewater treatment plants and its huge sludge drying fields.

Citizens for Landfill Alternatives, joined by the chambers of commerce of the East Side, Hegewisch, and South Chicago, has promoted discussion of alternative garbage disposal technologies, some of which turn garbage into energy and useful products, Shepherd said.

“We’d like to see an end to landfills anywhere,” said Shepherd. “Not In My Backyard is not a solution — just shipping our waste on to Pontiac, Illinois, or to Indiana. We think the city and the nation have to develop alternative ways to get rid of our garbage.”

The tour leaves at 10 a.m. from the Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve, on the 134th Street exit of the Bishop Ford Expressway. The cost is $7 per person, with lunch provided after the tour by Friends of the Parks and Friends of the Forest Preserves.

20-Year Landfill Moratorium Proposed

[UPDATE – The City Council passed the ordinance extending the moratorium on landfill expansions for 20 years at its June 8 session.]

In response to continuing efforts by Waste Management to promote a park proposal contingent on expanding its CID landfill, Tenth Ward Alderman John Pope has proposed the city extend its two-year moratorium on landfill expansions to 20 years.

Calumet area environmental and community activists will attend the June 7 meeting of the City Council’s environmental protection committee to support the proposal, said Marian Byrnes of the Calumet Ecological Park Association.

Waste Management has offered to develop a 200-acre park in exchange for five more years of dumping at the landfill, located at 130th and the Bishop Ford Expressway. The proposal would require an exception to the city’s two-year moratorium on landfill expansions, which has been repeatedly renewed. Pope’s ordinance would bar the landfill-park proposal — or any landfill expansions — for 20 years.

Waste Management’s proposal is opposed by three local chambers of commerce and ten community-based organizations, along with CEPA and the Southeast Environmental Task Force, Byrnes said.

Waste Management is now pushing a zoning ordinance to provide for “redevelopment” of landfills.

The CID landfill is the only open landfill in the city, and the last of scores of landfills in the Calumet region still in operation.

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is preparing a counterproposal for the site.

The environmental protection committee meets Tuesday, June 7 at 10 a.m at City Hall.

Calumet Landfill-Park Proposal Revived

Despite the City Council’s extension of Chicago’s landfill moratorium last December, Waste Management Inc. is continuing an effort to expand its CID landfill at 134th and the Calumet River. It’s the last active landfill in Chicago — and the last of scores that once dotted the Calumet region.

Waste Management has proposed expanding the landfill and operating it for an additional five years, then closing it and building a public park on the property.

Asked whether the landfill-park proposal would require an exception to the moratorium, Bill Plunkett of Waste Management said, “That would be up to the city.”

An aide to Tenth Ward Ald. John Pope said that renewal of the city’s moratorium took the Waste Management proposal out of consideration.

But petitions supporting the proposal “to add debris and close the landfill forever in five years and turn it into an environmentally-safe, 200-acre ‘Gateway Park’” have been passed extensively in the 10th Ward in recent weeks.

Rosa Perea of Centro Communitario Juan Diego said a number of women from her organization were invited to a meeting hosted by the United Neighborhood Organization to recruit people to the petition for $20 a page. They attend the meeting but declined the offer, she said. “It’s not what we’ve been fighting for.”

Juan Rangel of UNO acknowledged “some people find it a little ironic” that the group is supporting the proposal, although 20 years ago it championed the moratorium.

“We continue to support the intent of the moratorium,” he said, but the proposed landfill expansion would merely be “filling in a space between two existing dumps.” He said a UNO poll of Hispanics in the 10th Ward found respondents “split down the middle” — until the promise of up to 200 new jobs connected with the proposal was mentioned. Then there was “overwhelming support,” he said.

According to Aaron Rosinski of Southeast Environmental Task Force, those jobs are mainly connected to a recycling facility which Waste Management plans to build regardless of the success of the proposal.

The proposal would allow 6 million additional tons of solid waste to be dumped at the site over five years — or 5,000 tons a day, according to Marion Byrnes of the Calumet Ecological Park Association. She cited studies linking landfill gas emissions to increased cancer and leukemia.

The I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor is planning to extend its boundaries through the Calumet waterways of the Southeast Side, Byrnes said. “At this point in the history of the Southeast Side — with the Calumet Initiative signed by the governor and mayor to preserve 3000 acres of wetlands and develop 3000 acres of brownfields as clean industrial development — we don’t need five more years of a giant garbage dump,” she said.

The landfill is a few hundred yards from the site of the Ford Calumet Ecological Center, slated to open in 2007, Byrnes said, adding that odors from the landfill “would certainly discourage return visits” to the center.

Without the landfill expansion, Waste Management would be responsible for closing the site, which is now virtually full; a city draft plan calls for landscaping using native vegetation, with a trail and provisions for public access, Byrnes said.

Heritage Project to Acquire Steel Plant

A coalition of community, labor, educational, environmental, and historical groups in South Chicago is raising funds to acquire the last historic remnants of Chicago’s steel industry with a plan to create a museum highlighting Chicago’s industrial and labor history.

Chicago’s last blast furnace, built in 1905 for Acme Steel, was demolished in July after the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois listed it among the state’s ten most endangered historic places. But parts of the furnace are being made available for display to the Chicago Steel Heritage Project, which plans a museum at the site of the Acme Steel Coke Plant on the Calumet River at 11236 S. Torrence.

Two batteries containing 50 coke ovens are on the site, along with a giant wooden quench tower, elaborate coal-handling structures, and 15 smaller brick buildings built for offices and maintenance operations. Museum visitors will be able to view two 10-story-tall iron unloaders dating from 1912 still operating across the river, as well as the site of the 1937 Republic Steel Memorial Day massacre a mile away.

The museum fits with efforts to extend the I & M Canal Natural Heritage Corridor to include the Lake Calumet area and its juxtaposition of nature, industry, and community. The proposed museum site is adjacent to two marshes slated to become public natural areas and close to the future Ford Calumet Environmental Center.

The coalition is even making a virtue of the site’s contamination, discussing possibilities with researchers for an on-site laboratory to test environmental remediation technology.

The Chicago Steel Heritage Project is working to raise the down payment on a total price of $275,000 for the coke plant structures. The Landmarks Preservation Council has donated $10,000, and District 7 of the United Steelworkers of America announced a $40,000 donation on September 17.

So. Chicago Grows Community Garden

The tomatoes are still turning red, but the peppers are ready for harvest at the South Chicago Art Center’s new community garden at 88th and Burley.

Residents are growing squash, beans, radishes, eggplant and beets, along with watermelon and raspberries. The garden also features flowers and fruit trees.

It’s intended to beautify the neighborhood, but it also helps build community, said Sarah Ward of SCAC. And it provides a hands-on opportunity for children and adults to learn about healthy food and creating sustainable living environments, she said.

Built on four city lots, the garden is supported by CSA Learning Center and Heifer International.

For African Americans and Latinos in the area who may be removed by distance or time from recent agricultural roots, the garden can provide a kind of homecoming.

On two sides the garden faces the Germano Millgate Apartments, a private subsidized housing development. The community center there has involved children from its afterschool and summer programs, and has offered gardening and cooking classes for adults.

Joining in as individuals are a number of Mexican immigrants who were farmers before they came here. They are growing corn along with peppers and tomatillos.

The Chicago Public Art Group is creating a quiet space for rest and reflection at the garden.

The art center is planning a community celebration at the garden on August 27.

Waste Management Proposes Lifting Landfill Ban

With next month’s closing of Waste Management’s CID landfill, the last operating landfill in the city and one of over 30 former landfills in the Calumet area, the Southeast Side is finally emerging from decades as the city’s dumping ground.

Now recognized for its rich environmental resources, including unique wetlands and prairies, the area is set to benefit from millions of dollars of state and city investment in wetlands restoration, brownfield development, and a multi-million dollar environmental center under the Calumet Initiative.

But Waste Management has proposed that the city lift its 19-year landfill moratorium so it can continue dumping at the CID site, across the Bishop Ford Expressway from O’Brien Marsh at 134th Street. The corporation has offered the city a share of its profits and an “enhanced closure” with recreational amenities if it can dump 6 million more tons of garbage over the next five years.

In a survey by the Southeast Environmental Task Force last year, boards of 14 community groups, including two chambers of commerce, voted to uphold the moratorium. But the city is considering the offer, and planning commissioner Alicia Berg has formed a committee of community leaders and city officials to explore the matter.

SETF is marshalling opposition, concerned that lifting the moratorium for one site would open the door for other companies. They’ve enlisted former environmental commissioner Henry Henderson to support the moratorium, citing the high quality of Calumet wetlands and the value of the moratorium in creating impetus for the city’s recycling program and in blocking new dumping elsewhere in the city.

After 30 Years, Red Line Extension”Needs Study”

Extending the Red Line past its 95th Street terminus has been discussed and included in plans for thirty years, but funding has never materialized.

This year the Developing Communities Project in Roseland is pushing inclusion of the project in the Chicago Area Transit Study’s 2030 Regional Transportation Plan, which determines planning priorities for a projected $60 billion in transportation investments over the next three decades.

The 95th Street Red Line station, serving 50,000 riders a day, is the busiest hub in the CTA system, according to Lou Turner of DCP, and residents have signed petitions and turned out in large numbers at community meetings to show their on-going support for an extension. But in its final draft, issued in April, CATS listed the Red Line extension as a proposal needing more study.

Existing communities get short-changed in the CATS draft, said Jan Metzgar of the Chicagoland Transportation and Air Quality Commission (CTAQC): the majority of new project miles are in areas with under 2000 people per square mile, promoting sprawl rather than “investing in places where people already live.”

DCP and others are turning out to support the Red Line extension at a public hearing on the 2030 plan to be held by the Northeast Illinois Planning Commission on Tuesday, September 2, 4 p.m., at Lilydale Progressive MB Church, 10706 S. Michigan.

CTAQC holds its second annual regional congress on Saturday, September 20, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the Egan Center, DePaul University, 243 S. Wabash.

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