Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to bring the hammer down on “fly-dumpers” sailed through a City Council committee Tuesday to sighs of relief from aldermen whose wards have been turned into dumping grounds.
The ten-fold increase in maximum fines for repeat offenders — from $3,500-per-load to $30,000 for large quantities of waste, plus additional penalties for hazardous liquid waste for every day that the mess isn’t cleaned up — can’t come soon enough for South Side Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th).
“I’ve actually caught a fly dumper [who] brought his dump from the suburban area, not caring,” Foulkes said, prior to Tuesday’s vote by the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection.
Staring at poster-sized photos of a pair of vacant lots, one piled with crushed concrete and construction debris, the other showing a mountain of tires, Foulkes said: “These pictures — it happens all the time. I call for a clean-up on Monday and by Wednesday, they fly-dump again. I’m very excited about this [crackdown]. I’ll probably be out there calling.”
Fly-dumping is the longstanding practice of unloading truck-loads of waste on public or private property to escape disposal fees.
The intransigent problem doesn’t just destroy the quality of life in Chicago neighborhoods; it can pollute soil, air and water and also attract rats and create a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry the West Nile Virus, officials said.
“You wouldn’t believe, if you look at our skyline, that we have this type of activity going on in our neighborhoods, and we do,” said West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).
“The real challenge is that penalties are not what they need to be in order to deter these people from fly dumping … without mercy. This is something that is long overdue. I also think we need to go back to the bounty program of $1-a-tire to get them out of communities.”
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) added, “This is a longstanding problem that has only gotten worse as the cost of disposal has gotten higher.”
Hopkins also raised the practice of what he called “reverse fly dumping” that the debris can cause.
“People will go into a site where fly dumping has occurred to kind of pick through it see if there’s anything that’s metal which they can then sell for scrap,” Hopkins said.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this year that the Department of Streets and Sanitation had purchased 15 “movable” motion-detecting surveillance cameras, at a cost of $98,557, to help in the fight against “nuisance crimes” like graffiti and fly-dumping.
The solar-powered cameras have been mounted on light poles and buildings in areas where fly dumping has been a chronic problem. Streets and Sanitation personnel are already reviewing the images on a daily basis to find culprits “through license plates and other identifiers,” officials said.
The ten-fold increase in fines is a companion plan aimed at dropping the other shoe on fly-dumpers.
“When dumpers realize that a camera is there, they may not dump and the camera can then be moved to another place, then moved back again if it starts to occur again,” Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita said Tuesday.
“We do see patterns of repeat offenders. That’s why this ordinance allows us to penalize repeat offenders at higher levels.”
Last year, the Department of Streets and Sanitation completed almost 4,000 fly-dumping cleanups, which generated over 32,000 tons for disposal.
At $48 per ton, that’s $1.5 million in costs dumped on beleaguered Chicago taxpayers.
“This move will deter violations which, in turn, will improve health while reducing the city’s clean-up costs,” Morita said.
“This ordinance represents another step toward ensuring that Chicago’s families have clean places to live work and play. We will not allow companies to use our city as their personal dump.”
North Side Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) was a little skittish about the sky-high fines after learning that, when nobody is caught in the act of fly dumping, the citation goes to the property owner.
“I’m concerned about a homeowner who [is victimized] when someone drops off a mattress in front of their alley right in front of their garage. They’re not gonna get a $3000 ticket, right?” Mell said.
Deputy Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Cole Stallard replied: “If it’s in the alley, no ticket is issued. We clean up the alleys.”