Rat abatement committee back in Berwyn

The Berwyn City Council has taken a significant step to combat the city’s rat infestation problem.

The council on Sept. 28 unanimously agreed to reestablish the city’s dormant ad hoc rat abatement committee.

Fifth Ward Alderman Robert Pabon will head the committee, which comes nearly three years after the previous rat abatement committee made a series of recommendations to the City Council aimed at alleviating the infestation of rodents.

Pabon reactivated the issue on the campaign trail last year, and followed through this summer with a series of alley cleanups and a town hall forum where he was joined by more than 50 residents as well as representatives from Awesome Pest, the Berwyn-based business the city contracts for rat abatement.

Before the council vote, 20-year resident Tonya Hart pointed to a recent alley cleanup in the 1800 block of Cuyler Avenue that was both a heartening sign of civic engagement and a graphic illustration of how badly such efforts are needed.

“[The] block has about 20 buildings on each side, three flats. And it was done in less than two hours. This lifted my heart,” she said, singling out the Lincoln Middle School students who pitched in as well as the neighbors who joined Pabon, Alderman Joseph Carmichael (8th Ward) and Alderwoman Mary Beth Arenella (7th Ward).

“I’m excited to see this progress. Even though it’s disgusting to clean up alleys, and not only that, other peoples’ stuff, it’s hard to do. But it’s a necessary evil now,” Hart said before describing a “50-gallon rubberized open garbage can full of dog feces” the cleanup volunteers found.

“This should have been dealt with before it was even a quarter full,” she said. “Either by Waste Management or the city communicating with the homeowner. Now it’s a really big danger for everybody.”

“Everybody” is a key consideration denoted in Pabon’s goals for the committee. He’s spoken previously about the need for providing residents with easily accessible information on rat abatement in multiple languages, prominently featured on the city’s website and included as mailers with water bills or as circulars distributed at events sponsored by the city.

The previous ad hoc rat committee stopped meeting after its 2018 recommendations to the City Council. This time around, Pabon has a timeline for accomplishing and reporting on the series of tasks he’s set for the committee.

The group will meet no less than nine times over the next nine months. During that time, it will determine whether any of the previous committee’s recommendations were ever implemented and, if so, which ones were effective. The group will get data from the city’s Blight Department in order to “target hot spots and prioritize those areas with appropriate interventions.”

Also on the table is an assessment of the process residents undergo if they want to report a rat sighting and a “comprehensive rat control plan” that will be shared with the public.

Pabon will be joined on the committee by Carmichael, Arenella, 1st Ward Alderman Scott Lennon, Health District President David Avila and City Clerk Margaret Paul as well as residents Cecilia Teresa Hardacker and Don Miller.

The 2018 ad hoc rat committee’s recommendations are outlined in a Nov. 21, 2018, memo from Avila to the council.

While the 2018 recommendations don’t include provisions for educating the public on what draws rats or how to combat them, they do recommend having the city’s legal department determine whether booting the vehicles of homeowners who ignore blight notices is legal. Other recommendations were determining whether blight fines should be increased and giving the Berwyn Health District the power to fine businesses that don’t comply with health district measures regarding trash.

The committee also recommended the City Council adopt a pest control ordinance that would require commercial businesses to submit proof of a 12-month contract for regular pest inspections and treatment program with a licensed pest control. Finally, the recommendations suggest the council research an “electronic monitoring system to log in all inspections.”