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Community Group Demands Springfield Take Action On Pillsbury Mills Site

Daisy Contreras
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS
Mary Frances, with the Moving Pillsbury Forward group, asked council members to act on six demands from the group, including appropriating $20,000 in the next budget to secure the property.

A community group wants the city of Springfield to take over the Pillsbury Mills Plant, tear it down and redevelop the site.

But, first, they want the city to make sure the area is closed off to trespassers.

“It's a partially demolished old factory that has some level of asbestos contamination still on site. And so it's dangerous for folks to go in there,”said Chris Richmond, the former fire marshal for Springfield who is leading Moving Pillsbury Forward. “But what we know at this point is that is happening on a regular basis.”

The group brought its concerns to Tuesday’s City Council meeting. 

Mary Frances, also with Moving Pillsbury Forward, asked council members to act on six demands from the group, including allocating $20,000 in the next budget to secure the property.

“When are you going to take control and make this a win-win for yourself and the whole city?” she asked.

Mayor Jim Langfelder said he has regular conversations with city departments and state agencies about what the city can legally do about security. The city is considering purchasing perimeter fencing to keep people out, he said. But while the city does weekly monitoring, there is still concern about people who get onto the property unnoticed.

“Ok-- we secure it, but we don’t want to keep anybody inside. We’ve actually talked about flying a drone," he said.

As for the question of city ownership, Langfelder said he’s not in favor of it because of the liability risk and cost of cleanup.

Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer agreed and said the original owners should take responsibility.

“I think it would be very irresponsible for any of us up on this horseshoe to purchase that property because we don’t know what we are getting into,” he said.

Still, Richmond argues it’s the best way forward because of the possibility to get state and federal funds to support cleanup and redevelopment.

“Once you take possession of the site, you give yourself a chance at a long-term positive outcomes,” he told NPR Illinois. “And that's what we're focused on is long-term solutions for what has already been a long-term problem in the community.”

Cargill bought the plant in 1991 and shuttered it ten years later. The plant is currently privately owned. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spent nearly $2 million to clean up the asbestos in 2017.

Moving Pillsbury Forward hosted a community meeting last week where it surveyed residents about what they wanted to see there. Richmond said among the top choices were a grocery store, park and affordable housing.

The group is hosting a perimeter walk around the plant on Saturday December 7 at noon. 

Moving Pillsbury Forward asked council members to create a Pillsbury Advisory Council that meets monthly and posts agendas and minutes on the city website; put the site on the next agenda for the Urban Forestry Commission and make it a top priority for beautification through Springfield Green; ask the police chief to require the neighborhood police officer to do weekly surveys of the Pillsbury property with results given to the proper authorities; put $20,000 in the next budget to secure the property; join the group for a Perimeter Property Walk at the Pillsbuty Mills Plant; and add their name to the list of supporters on their website.

Daisy reported on statehouse issues for our Illinois Issues project. She's a Public Affairs Reporting program graduate from the University of Illinois Springfield. She also graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and has an associates degrees from Truman College. Daisy is from Chicago where she attended Lane Tech High School.
Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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