Emanuel adds reinforcements in war on rats

By Fran Spielman – Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is adding 10 rodent control crews to respond to a 67-percent increase in complaints that’s certain to spike even higher when redevelopment of Children’s Memorial Hospital begins.

That’s why the announcement will be made at the Lincoln Park site of the soon-to-be-demolished hospital. City Hall considers it ground zero for Chicago’s war against rats because the hospital demolition and $300 million mixed-use development will send rats scurrying in all directions.

Anne Sheahan, chief of staff for the Department of Streets and Sanitation, said the 10 additional two-person crews will bring the total number of rodent-control crews to 28. That’s in addition to the five rodent control crews tied to Emanuel’s tax-laden 2016 budget.

Some of the new crews are wrapping up a citywide inventory of refuse collection carts, Sheahan said. Others are assigned to garbage collection but can be freed from those duties, thanks to efficiencies tied to Chicago’s switch from a ward-by-ward to a grid system for refuse collection.

Four of the crews are assigned to do hand sweeping and wastebasket emptying in the Loop but will add baiting in the Loop and River North to their daily responsibilities, Sheahan said.

“We have received a 67 percent uptick in resident complaints. A lot of that is due to the mild winter and increased construction around the city. When excavation occurs, rodents are disturbed and often come to the surface,” Sheahan said.

“The mayor has demanded that we get in front of this and be as pro-active as possible. We’re adding crews so we can more quickly respond to resident complaints and sanitation issues before they become large-scale,” she said. “We’re doing more preventive baiting. We’re using predictive analytics to identify problem areas based on 311 calls. We’re working closely with the Water Department. They’re providing us with job sites so we can bait ahead of schedule. We’re going back to areas where we’ve baited in the past to make sure the problem has been eliminated.”

The Department of Streets and Sanitation’s newly expanded army of rodent control crews is also working to enforce the ordinance Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) put in place two years ago in preparation for the demolition of Children’s Memorial Hospital.

It requires developers to maintain “above-ground bait boxes on the perimeter of construction sites” for the duration of the project and take “rodent abatement measures” no more than seven days after the work is done.

Failure to do so could result in a stop-work order.

In addition to adding crews and targeting construction companies, Emanuel is creating a task force of city departments and local government agencies to “strategically go after” rats.

But Sheahan warned that there will be no winning the war against rats unless food sources are eliminated. That’s why the campaign also includes a heavy dose of public outreach.

“We can bait all day long, but if there are other food sources in the community, the rats will not eat the poison,” Sheahan said.

“If residents have garbage carts that might not have a lid on them or not enough garbage carts, they need to make sure their refuse is properly contained. If you have a bird feeder in your backyard, that’s a food source for rodents. Take the bird feeder down. If you’re not cleaning up after your dog or cat, that’s another problem. We’re posting all of that information in alleys to encourage residents to do their part help us eliminate rodent food sources. As our crews like to say, `If rats can’t feed, they can’t breed.’ ”

Last month, Emanuel joined forces with rookie Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) on an ordinance that would require Chicago dog owners to pick up after their pets — even in their own backyards — or face $50 to $500 fines.

For 41 years, Chicago dog owners have been required to pick up after their pets on public streets, alleys and sidewalks or face fines.

But dog owners who allow their pets to pile up the poop in their own backyards have gotten a pass — even when neighbors complain about the stench and a rat population that feeds on animal waste explodes.

Pest control giant Orkin declared Chicago the nation’s “rattiest” city in 2013 and 2014, and the problem has only gotten worse since then.

During the first three months of this year, the city’s 311 non-emergency system fielded 6,700 complaints about rats, up from 4,200 a year ago.