The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) honored a leader of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) with a first of its kind award based on his dedication to enhancing the quality of life in the Southwest Side community.
The LVEJO saluted Frank Avila, MWRD chairman of finance, with an Environmental Justice Champion Award on Aug. 14. Avila was honored as the LVEJO celebrated environmental justice victories at a fundraiser dinner for the organization, which also marked the occasion of the grand opening of La Villita Park, 2800 S. Sacramento Ave., the third anniversary of Chicago Coal Power Plants closure, new access to the 31st street bus and many more initiatives. Among those environmental justice victories, Avila played a major role in working to improve conditions at the 31st Street Collateral Channel.
"Commissioner Frank Avila immediately recognized the need to address the 31st Street Collateral Channel and was instrumental in involving the community to work with MWRD on a solution," said Antonio Lopez, executive director of the LVEJO. "For his assistance on this project and his long-time commitment to protecting the environment, LVEJO is proud to honor Commissioner Avila with our first ever Environmental Justice Champion Award for 2015."
In March, the MWRD Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to negotiate an intergovernmental agreement with the Chicago Park District to repurpose the Collateral Channel for use as park and natural habitat and transfer ownership of the reclaimed land to the Chicago Park District. The legislation, sponsored by Commissioner Avila, would allow the MWRD to transport rock from McCook Reservoir to the site to fill the 1,600-foot long channel just east of Kedzie Avenue and south of 31st Street. Constructed prior to 1900, the Collateral Channel has seen little use in recent years and is stagnant most of the time. It receives discharge from both combined sewer overflows and pollution from nearby industry.
Avila coordinated meetings with staff from MWRD and LVEJO to create a plan to address the pollution and create a potential land use for the area.
"I take the issues of residents surrounding the 31st Street Collateral Channel to heart, just as I do all constituents' issues in our District," said Commissioner Avila. "On behalf of MWRD staff, I thank the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization for this tremendous award, but remind them that we are just doing our job when we put these quality of life issues to the forefront, especially when these issues involve water quality. We constantly strive to have the cleanest waterways and the MWRD plays a major part in making it a priority for our region."
A professional engineer and a retired professional land surveyor in the state of Illinois, Avila practiced civil engineering for 54 years. He was first elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2002, and his work in the community has drawn international recognition. Recently, it was announced that Avila will receive the prestigious Public Official's Award from the Water Environment Federation (WEF), an international not-for-profit technical and educational water quality organization. The award will be presented during a ceremony at the organization's 88th Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference this fall in Chicago.
The fundraiser, held at Chicago Café Banquet Hall, benefited LVEJO's youth leadership development and environmental stewardship programs, the Semillas de Justicia Community Garden and community redevelopment of the former Crawford Coal Power plant, decommissioned 31st BNSF rail line, and the 31st Collateral Channel. LVEJO works to accomplish environmental justice in Little Village and achieve the self-determination of immigrant, low-income and working-class families.