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Former Illinois EPA director hired to oversee cleanup of Tinley Park mental health center land eyed for recreational use

The SouthtownStar - 8/22/2023

Aug. 22—Renee Cipriano, who served under two Illinois governors as head of the state's primary environmental watchdog agency, is being brought on by the Tinley Park-Park District to oversee the cleanup of tainted property the Park District expects to soon inherit from the state.

Cipriano's contract was approved recently by the park board, but the full scope of her job and how much she will be paid was not immediately available from the district.

She was the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency director from 2001 to 2005.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this month signed legislation transferring the 280-acre site, northwest of the intersection of Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street, to the district.

The legislation authorizes selling the shuttered Tinley Park Mental Health Center and adjacent Howe Developmental Center to the Park District for $1, although the site carries with it a multimillion-dollar cost to clean it up.

The Park District's initial plan is to redevelop 90 acres to include a soccer field, multipurpose sports field and an accessible playground.

The state's budget includes $15 million in grant money earmarked for the Park District to raze multiple structures on the property and take care of problems with the property include asbestos in buildings, contaminated soil and underground pipes and storage tanks.

The Park District is working with the state to secure that grant, and it was not immediately clear how soon the district will gain control of the property, which is fenced off and patrolled by private security.

The Park District has said it will work to refresh an environmental study of the site done many years ago by a consultant working for the village.

Cipriano was first appointed director of the Illinois EPA in August 2011 by Gov. George Ryan then reappointed in January 2003 by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

She was associate director and chief counsel to the state EPA from 1995 to 1997.

A graduate of Loyola University's law school, Cipriano was a partner from 1997 to 1999 at the Chicago-based law firm Schiff Hardin specializing in environmental law. She was named in 2017 to the board of directors of the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C., according to the institute.

Also hired by the Park District is Elizabeth Harvey, a partner at the Chicago law firm Swanson, Martin & Bell.

Harvey concentrates her practice in environmental law and has extensive experience in cases involving contaminated property and groundwater, according to Swanson. Martin & Bell.

As with Cipriano, a contract outlining the specific work she will do and what she will be paid was not immediately available from the Park District.


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