Madigan sues Trump Tower over fouled river
AG says downtown site violated state EPA laws aimed at protecting fish
Trump International Hotel & Tower is endangering fish and other aquatic life in the Chicago River, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan alleges in a new lawsuit targeting the president’s skyscraper for multiple violations of clean water laws.
The glass-and-steel tower, emblazoned with a sign spelling “TRUMP” in letters more than 20 feet high, is one of the city’s largest users of river water for its cooling systems. It siphons nearly 20 million gallons a day through intakes so powerful the machines could fill an Olympic swimming pool in less than an hour, then pumps the water back into the river up to 35 degrees hotter.
Madigan’s lawsuit, filed late Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, accuses Trump Tower of failing to meet several requirements in a state permit intended to limit the number of fish pinned against intake screens or killed by sudden changes in pressure and temperature.
Building managers also failed to properly renew the permit and have been operating the massive cooling system unlawfully for nearly a year, according to the lawsuit.
“Trump Tower continues to take millions of gallons of water from the Chicago River every day without a permit and without any regard to how it may be impacting the river’s ecosystem,” Madigan said in a statement. “I filed my lawsuit to make sure Trump Tower cannot continue violating the law.”
The Tribune first reported in June that the decade-old skyscraper is the only Chicago high-rise that has failed to document it took measures to protect fish and aquatic life in the river.
Trump’s Chicago managers also haven’t conducted a study of fish killed by the luxury hotel and condominium complex — another step required five years ago by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in the initial permit for the building’s water intakes.
A draft of the state’s latest permit gives building managers another three years to complete the ecological study and confirms state inspectors failed to ensure the skyscraper has complied with the fishprotecting regulations.
The Illinois EPA pulled back from renewing Trump Tower’s permit after the Sierra Club, Friends of the Chicago River and the University of Chicago’s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic threatened to sue.
The groups have informally discussed a settlement with Trump Tower representatives. On Tuesday, the Trump Organization emailed a two-sentence statement in response to Madigan’s lawsuit:
“We are disappointed that the Illinois attorney general would choose to file this suit considering such items are generally handled at the administrative level. One can only conclude that this decision was motivated by politics.”
Madigan, a Democrat, is not running for re-election to the statewide office she has held since 2003. She filed the lawsuit based in part on a referral from the Illinois EPA, which is controlled by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
This is the second time Madigan has sued Trump Tower. She also filed a complaint in 2012, three years after Trump opened his glistening Chicago high-rise at 401 N. Wabash Ave., because developers had failed to get a permit for a a new cooling-water intake on the former site of the drab, low-slung Chicago Sun-Times Building.
The corporation in charge of the hotel and condo tower later agreed to follow the law and pay a $46,000 fine. In settlement documents, the state said the fine would “serve to deter further violations and aid in future voluntary compliance.”
Legal action to protect the river once wouldn’t have even crossed the minds of public officials who for decades considered it little more than an industrialized sewage canal. Engineers reversed the river away from Lake Michigan more than a century ago to keep the city’s waste out of its source of drinking water. While most of the river’s flow downtown still comes from a sewage treatment plant in north suburban Skokie, the water is clean enough today that kayaks can be rented along the popular Riverwalk and other spots along the urban waterway.
During the past four years, federal and state biologists have found nearly 30 types of fish swimming in the signature stretch of the river between Lake Michigan and Wolf Point, including largemouth bass, bluegill, white perch and walleye.
Most of the fish arrived naturally and appear to be growing in number, based on periodic surveys by federal, state and local officials. Another species found downtown is channel catfish, a relatively easy catch for anglers that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocked in the North Branch four years ago after building artificial nesting cavities to encourage reproduction.