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Attorney general sues Trump Tower for threatening Chicago River ecosystem

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The high-rise pumps millions of gallons of heated water into the Chicago River each day without a permit, claims AG Madigan

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Chicago’s Trump International Hotel & Tower may find itself in legal hot water due to a recent lawsuit filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan alleging that the building’s river-fed cooling system is in violation of multiple state and federal clean water laws.

Madigan’s complaint, filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, says that President Trump’s namesake downtown tower is lacking the necessary permits to pull nearly 20 million gallons of water from the Chicago River each day and discharge a byproduct known as “heated effluent” back in the waterway.

The lawsuit also states the building’s owners failed to submit a mandatory study detailing the impact of their intake system as well as measures implemented to limit the number of fish killed either by its powerful suction or its heated outflow—which can be up to 35 degrees warmer than ambient river water.

The combination luxury hotel and condo tower isn’t the only building to use river water for cooling purposes, but is certainly one of the city’s largest. Madigan’s complaint, lodged at the request of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, comes on the heels of a Chicago Tribune article revealing that the property’s permit had expired in 2017.

“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.”

Trump Tower—and its 20-foot-tall sign—has a commanding presence on the north bank of the Chicago’s River’s main branch.
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A Trump Organization spokesperson responded to Monday’s complaint with a short email simply stating, “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.”

This week’s lawsuit, however, represents the second time that Madigan has filed a suit regarding Trump Tower’s improper water usage. In 2012, she sued the development for failing to obtain a permit for, again, a river water-fed cooling intake. Management ultimately agreed to comply with the law in 2013 and pay a $46,000 fine, according to the Tribune.

Allegations of political motivations notwithstanding, the fact that a lawsuit was filed on behalf of native wildlife is the latest symbol of the river’s dramatic transformation from polluted industrial dumping site to a thriving aquatic ecosystem. A few decades ago, such a move “wouldn’t have even crossed the minds of public officials,” noted Tribune reporter Michael Hawthorne.

The Chicago River’s once-toxic main branch is currently home to more than two dozen species of native fish. The revival is due to ongoing work to clean up the waterway as well as initiatives to create artificial spawning areas similar to the floating pallets of vegetation moored to the Chicago Riverwalk.

Trump International Hotel & Tower

401 North Wabash Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60611