By Mark Wachtler
June 12, 2015. Chicago. (ONN) It seems the Chicago Inspector General has had enough double-talk and inaction on behalf of Mayor Emanuel’s City Hall, this time regarding illegal dumping of construction waste by city vendors. The IG’s office notified City Hall back in April of the criminal practice with a response from city officials the following month saying thanks, but no thanks. Two days ago, the Inspector General publicly released the corresponding documents.
A pile of milled asphalt. Image courtesy of BurtonExcavating.com.
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The IG report on illegal dumping by Chicago city contractors listed a number of abuses, including the fact that the city pays these contractors large sums specifically to satisfy city, state and federal dumping laws, but the contractors are simply ignoring the laws and pocketing the money. The IG also insists the city has no enforcement arm for bringing the offenders to justice or even making them stop. And most indicting of all, the Inspector General’s office says numerous city departments are aware the criminal practice is occurring, but not a single one as done anything to stop it.
The opening statement from the IG special report sums up the office’s findings, ‘The investigation revealed that in September 2012 two different companies violated the Municipal Code of Chicago (MCC) and their City contracts by disposing of milled asphalt from City projects at improper dump locations. Additionally, in one of the situations we reviewed, the contract project manager was completely unaware that such dumping is regulated by law and contract. Although multiple City departments were aware of the improper dumping, no department took action to stop it or to ensure that future disposal would comport with legal and contract requirements. Our inquiry revealed that no City department takes primary ownership and responsibility for enforcing the law or the contract provisions regarding the disposal of nonhazardous waste.’
The IG’s office refuses to name the two offending construction companies. But the report gives the specific details of each project, both involving the disposal of milled asphalt. In the first case, the construction company working for the city’s Department of Transportation repeatedly dumped its debris at a regular low-cost dump and not at one permitted or zoned to receive it.
In the second instance, the contractor for the city’s Department of Water Management removed the waste asphalt. Instead of paying to dispose of it at a licensed and approved dump site, the construction company dumped it on a vacant lot on property it owns. According to the IG’s report, the company confirmed that fact, but suggested it was to recycle the waste by using it to level their property.
Breaking the law on accident, and on purpose
The Inspector General interviewed a company representative from one of the above examples who told the IG that they never collect or turn in dump tickets for non-hazardous waste, only hazardous waste. The company rep even admitted they weren’t aware there was a law requiring them to do so and that city departments have never asked for them. The city vendor also made a stunning admission about hazardous waste.
The IG report reads, ‘The project manager opined that there was no harm to the City when contractors dump milled asphalt on private property because the contractors had already been paid to remove the material and they in fact did so. OIG also found that, although the project manager did collect dump tickets for hazardous materials, he did not use them to track whether the hazardous waste was dumped at a permitted and approved facility. The project manager reported that he collected the hazardous waste tickets solely for payment purposes.’
View the full report at ChicagoInspectorGeneral.org
City Hall responds
One full month after the Chicago Inspector General wrote to Chicago City Hall to inform them of the illegal dumping being done by the city’s vendors, and the inaction by city departments to stop it, three department Commissioners penned a joint letter to the IG’s office. The four-page letter was from the Dept of Public Health, Dept of Water Management, and the Dept of Transportation - the three agencies overseeing the two documented instances of illegal dumping and refusing to stop it.
After two pages of mind-numbing legalese explaining the laws about illegal dumping and the Chicago Department of Public Health’s obligation to enforce them, the letter from City Hall to the IG confirmed receipt of the IG’s original 2012 complaint, but simply declared, ‘CDPH determined that these incidents did not present strong enforcement cases for the City.’
The Commissioners also seemed to comment directly to the charge against the construction company that dumped the waste asphalt onto its own property writing, ‘These materials can legally be used in certain, specified ways and are not considered waste when used in those ways.’ The letter claims the city will take proactive steps going forward by holding its contracts department responsible for performing random checks of dump tickets from city contractors. If construction waste is not being dumped legally, the city will seek reimbursement of disposal payments.
Almost unbelievably, the city of Chicago actually has a PR campaign that encourages citizens to report illegal dumping to city officials. They even claim to have an ‘Illegal Dumping Reward Program’. The city website defines illegal dumping as follows, ‘Illegal dumping, or ‘fly dumping’, is the dumping of any waste material on public or private property without a permit from CDPH (Chicago Department of Public Health)’.
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