After bike accident, alderman starts evening score against squirrels

SHARE After bike accident, alderman starts evening score against squirrels
Garbage bins in a Chicago alley

One alderman wants to scrap the flat monthly garbage collection fee and start charging by volume, saying he gets complaints about some homeowner who fill up several containers a week. | Sun-Times file photo

Sun-Times file photo

Six months after suffering severe facial injuries when a squirrel jumped in front of his bike, South Side Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) started evening the score Wednesday.

Brookins finally got the City Council hearing he wanted on “options for procuring stronger garbage carts” that are more resistant to the “aggressive squirrels” he complains have been chomping their way through all too many of Chicago’s 96-gallon garbage carts.

The hearing before the City Council’s Finance Committee ended up being a somewhat uncomfortable commercial for two particular companies that reached out to Brookins and claim to have perfected a squirrel-and-rat fix.

One product claims to be a “coating of high-strength, military-grade polyurea” that is “sprayed on like a paint gun” at a cost of $20 a cart for the lid alone. It supposedly acts “like a hot sauce” — it doesn’t hurt the rodents, it just makes them go away.

“We sell this product to the military,” said Rick Mansour of PolyArmor USA. “A lot of the equipment you see in Iraq is sprayed with our product.”

The other fix is a mesh that covers the lid of the cart and is held on with bungee cords. That one costs $24 a cart.

Given the fact that the entire cart costs $46.79 to replace, it’s highly unlikely that either product will end up being a cost-effective deterrent to the “aggressive squirrels” eating their way through thousands of city-provided garbage carts.

But Brookins said that wasn’t the point. The point was to get the Department of Streets and Sanitation to start thinking about a fix instead of wasting money by repeatedly repairing and replacing carts.

“It is a health issue. . . . It is a cleanliness issue in that these rodents take the garbage out. It’s strewn all across the community. Just to come up with something that seems to be low-hanging fruit that nobody appears to be paying much attention to because it’s not big enough to be on their radar screen,” Brookins said.

“I would like the commissioner, when they do another request-for-proposals for garbage cans, to see if we can’t get the manufacturer of the existing cans to come up with some kind of mesh baked inside of the product or already sprayed with some type of coating,” he said. “Maybe it’ll cost us $5 more a can. But if it doubles or triples the life of the can, it would be well worth it.”

Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams said he’s open to testing almost any “viable” and “financially feasible” fix for the perennial problem.

He noted results of a five-year study that showed that 37 percent of the 60,000 carts reported as having reparable or irreparable holes were caused by “rodent damage.”

He’s even come up with a homemade remedy of his own.

“I once put sheet metal on the top of my cart to cover my holes. My wife said it was very unattractive. But it was very effective. Those suckers slid right off,” Williams said.

“You can purchase across-the-counter products to spray your cart and it will deter rodents. But you’ll just have to keep re-doing it. … You’re gonna end up spending probably $3 to $5 for bottle of this stuff. But after you have a heavy rain you’re gonna have to do another application.”

Brookins’ run-in with a rodent occurred on Nov. 13. He was riding his bike along the Cal-Sag Trail when he was sent flying over the handlebars by a squirrel that got caught in the spokes of his bike.

At the time, the alderman posted a picture on his Facebook page of the squirrel stuck in the wheel of his bike. He told his constituents he would be out of pocket for a while after the accident required “multiple surgeries to recover from damage to my face and upper body.”

But squirrels had been in the alderman’s sights even before the accident.

In October, Brookins complained during City Council budget hearings that Chicago was wasting a ton of money replacing and repairing garbage carts because “aggressive squirrels” were eating through them.

On Wednesday, Brookins was asked whether the City Council hearing gave him at least some measure of revenge.

“Not quite. When we get the fix, that’ll happen,” he said.

Brookins noted that he’s back on his horse — or rather, his bike — after a long recuperation and plans to participate in “Bike the Drive.”

“Hopefully, there will be no squirrels on Lake Shore Drive,” he said. “We will see if they’re out to get me.”

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