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Proviso Probe

Saturday, February 18, 2006

ENVIR, Whole Foods not entirely responsible... maybe [FP]

On Monday, Proviso Probe reported on the sewage backup caused by Whole Foods in the River Forest Mall. I contacted Forest Park Village Administrator Mike Sturino and received the following response.
I am writing in response to your February 13, 2006 inquiry about a sewer backup at Harlem and Lake. I discussed the matter at length with the Village of River Forest and Whole Foods. I also discussed it with Village of Forest Park staff. I share you concern about this issue. I have determined that this area has not previously experienced a sewer backup, but we will work to take steps to ensure this does not happen again.

It does appear that Whole Foods has caused to [sic] the backup in some respects. In cleaning out the line, it also became clear that part of the problem was a towel that was somehow flushed down a drain, and was found to be contributing to the backup. Another contributing factor is the actual elevation of the vicinity, where there is a drop at the location that the backup occurred. That drop appears to have served as a type of relief in this case because the sewer structure was located at this low point. Unfortunately, the sewage that backed up then followed the elevation south, into Forest Park, from under the viaduct.

River Forest and Forest Park have been working together on engineering plans for the viaduct, with an eye to an ultimate improvement to that entire underpass, including an elimination of the concrete columns that run down the middle of Harlem. It is hoped that this will also lead to renovations to the Green Line Station. We will include this sewer issue in our engineering discussions.

In the meantime, Whole Foods has assured me that they are going to renew their commitment to more regular maintenance of their own lines so that it does not act as a contributor to this type of problem in the future.

I thank Mike Sturino for the effort he put into researching the sewer backup issue. I also thank him for responding promptly to my letter.

I still think a municipal ticket should be written for Whole Foods. The problem should be “memorialized” (as the lawyers like to say) so that in the future when Whole Foods asks its neighbors or municipal government for some favors, Whole Foods' plusses and minuses can be properly evaluated.

I don’t see the towel letting Whole Foods off the hook. It seems like Whole Foods is a good candidate for improperly dumping the towel too.

But the towel may not have played a significant role in causing the sewer backup. When I talked to the River Forest public works director, he made no mention of a towel. The towel only was listed as a cause after I called for a ticket to be written. It seems likely that when clearing out a block sewer line, one will find lots of stuff in the blockage. If River Forest didn’t want to write Whole Foods a ticket, it seems possible to claim something besides the grease (like, the towel) also contributed to the backup.

Further, the towel is a side issue. Whole Foods was illegally dumping grease. This offense deserves a ticket whether the towel contributed to the sewage backup or not.

The issue of re-engineering the viaduct is also a side issue. What fix should be implemented to allow businesses to illegally dump grease and towels in the sewer system? Should taxpayers be forced to pay for systems that allow businesses to break the law? Why not just use the existing systems that are adequate if businesses, like Whole Foods, follow the law?

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