By Michael Hawthorne
Fishing piers and floating gardens welcome anglers to the Chicago Riverwalk, but a few blocks upstream is a little-known threat to fish and other aquatic life in the city’s steadily improving waterway: Trump International Hotel & Tower.
State records obtained by the Tribune show the president’s glass-and-steel skyscraper is one of the largest users of Chicago River water for its cooling systems, siphoning nearly 20 million gallons a day through intakes so powerful the machines could fill an Olympic swimming pool in less than an hour, then pumping the water back into the river up to 35 degrees hotter.
Like other large users that draw water directly from rivers or lakes, Trump Tower is required to follow federal and state regulations detailing how facilities should limit the number of fish pinned against intake screens or killed by sudden changes in pressure and temperature.
Yet of the nearly dozen high-rises that rely on the Chicago River for cooling water, the decade-old skyscraper developed by Donald Trump is the only one that has failed to document it took those measures, state records show. 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 a permit for the building’s water intakes.
Estimates of Trump Tower fish kills likely won’t be available anytime soon. 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 fish-protecting regulations.
“I can’t keep a library book checked out for more than two weeks without getting a fine,” said Albert Ettinger, an environmental lawyer challenging the permit on behalf of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River. “Why should Trump Tower get special treatment?”
Citing the state’s lack of enforcement, Ettinger and Mark Templeton, director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago, notified Trump Tower’s managers on Friday that the nonprofit groups are preparing a federal lawsuit accusing them of repeatedly violating the 1972 Clean Water Act.
Questions raised by the lawyers already appear to be having their intended effect.
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