Former President Donald Trump’s hotel along the Chicago River violated state environmental laws by sucking in massive amounts of water without a valid permit, a Cook County judge ruled in a decision made public this past Friday.
Judge Sophia H. Hall’s one-page ruling is the latest development in a case brought to public attention in 2018 when the Chicago Tribune revealed the Trump International Hotel & Tower was the only downtown high-rise that had failed to take legally mandated steps to protect fish in the rapidly improving waterway.
During the operation of its heating and air conditioning systems, Trump’s Chicago high-rise siphons nearly 20 million gallons a day through intakes so powerful the machines could fill an Olympic swimming pool in less than an hour. It pumps 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.
State records that have been obtained show Trump’s organization never followed the requirements.
Hall set a March 11 hearing to debate what penalties Trump’s Chicago operation, known as 401 N. Wabash Venture LLC, should face for violating state law.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office is seeking fines of $50,000 a day, plus $10,000 for each day the violations continued. Though the penalties legally could add up to $12 million, the state typically settles with defendants for considerably less money.
“No one is exempt from compliance with the laws that protect Illinois’ environment and most valuable natural resources, and we will continue to seek to hold the defendants accountable for violations of state environmental laws that jeopardized the quality of the Chicago River,” Raoul said in a statement.
Trump Tower representatives did not respond to a request for comment. They previously had called the state’s lawsuit a politically motivated vendetta against the Republican president.
Raoul’s predecessor, fellow Democrat Lisa Madigan, sued the hotel after the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club and the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago threatened to file their own lawsuit.
It’s also been noted that apparently all of the other users of river water had filed documents outlining how their cooling systems limit fish kills. Most draw substantially less water than Trump Tower and slow the velocity of their intakes to increase the chances fish can swim away safely.
Developers initially failed to get a permit for a new cooling-water intake when they began construction of Trump’s riverfront high-rise on the former site of the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2012, three years after the hotel opened, the Trump organization settled a state complaint by agreeing to follow the law and paying a $46,000 fine.
During the past decade, federal and state biologists have found nearly 30 types of fish swimming in the river, including largemouth bass, bluegill, white perch, and walleye.