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the Chicago Tribune

Smokestack Protesters Come Down, Arrested

Deanese Williams-Harris and Pat Curry

Amid heavy rain, eight Greenpeace anti-pollution protesters this morning came down from the smokestack of a Pilsen coal-fired plant and were promptly arrested by Chicago police.

"It's a combination of bad weather and feeling we've got the message out," said Molly Dorozenski, a spokeswoman for the group, explaining the end of the protest that began at dawn Tuesday.

Three women and five men were arrested at 8:25 a.m., said Police News Affairs Officer Laura Kubiak.

A separate group of eight activists from the same organization were arrested Tuesday afternoon after apparently rappelling off a bridge where police found them "hanging" from ropes, said Police News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines.

They claimed on the Greenpeace website that their presence dangling above the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal had prevented a coal barge from passing.

Those arrested all were from out of state and were charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct and performing an aerial exhibition without a net, Kubiak said.

The arrests were made shortly before 5 p.m. at the bridge at 3700 South Pulaski Road.

Earlier Tuesday, the first group of activists scaled the smokestack at the aging Fisk plant, 1111 W. Cermak Rd., at dawn to unfurl protest banners atop the 450-foot structure.

The yellow banners read: "QUIT COAL." They also started painting the same words on the smokestack and finished that job this morning.

A spokesman for Midwest Generation, which owns the plants, said, "Our focus right now is the safety of the people up there." He said the company's offer to the protesters of an exterior elevator to come down from the smokestack had been declined.

"On the substance of what they're doing, we find it kind of ironic with the EPA hearings setting lower mercury standard goals for 2015, we fully support what's going on," he said. "In fact, we've been working on lowering mercury emissions since 2008. The hearings call for lowering emissions by 2015, so we're already ahead on that."
The plants long have been targeted by environmental groups and Chicago aldermen who have been fighting for years to force both the aging Fisk and Crawford plants to either clean up or shut down.

The activists scaled the smokestack at about dawn and planned to stay until Midwest Generation heeds their concerns, said Edyta Sitko, Greenpeace field organizer in Chicago.

"We want the plants shut down now," she said.

The former ComEd plants also are the subject of anti-pollution lawsuits filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Pollution problems at the two plants have been well-documented. Both are major sources of lung-damaging soot and other noxious chemicals, according to the protesters and a Tribune investigation.

Deanese Williams-Harris is a Tribune reporter. Pat Curry is WGN-TV managing editor.

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