Lahanas Hits the Gas on Stinky Sewers in Chesterfield Hills

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Dylan Lees for ELi

City Manager George Lahanas and a sewer drain in the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood.

Two days ago, ELi’s Andrew Graham reported on the longstanding misery of south Chesterfield Hills residents who have been living with the smell of stinky sewers for what some report has amounted to over two decades.

In a surprise announcement last night, City Manager George Lahanas told Council that engineering estimates are now being prepared on a solution to the problem, and he hopes to see an effective fix started as early as “this fall.”

“We are preparing an engineering estimate for repair or retrofitting of a number of sewer catch basins to address the issue of odor,” Lahanas told Council in his City Manager’s report. “It sounds like there are approximately – and I’m just going from memory – 14 catch basins that need to be retrofitted with sewer traps. And if they can’t be retrofitted, which some of them can’t be, they’ll need to be replaced.”

Email correspondence between Interim Director of Public Works Nicole McPherson and residents in Chesterfield Hills indicates there are 17 catch basins at issue, and that the fix may require substantial digging up of roads in the area.

As for timing, Lahanas told Council, “I would expect to have a cost estimate and then hopefully begin that work yet this winter – I mean this fall. If not this fall, it certainly will be a high priority to address in the spring. So, that’s our plan but I will keep Council posted on the cost and dates for that project, and also the neighborhood as well.”

Lahanas’ announcement came shortly after a comment at the meeting from Council member Lisa Babcock. She said that she couldn’t imagine living with the constant stench of sewers outside one’s home and suggested that the people paying taxes there have a reasonable expectation that the City’s funds will be used to solve problems like this.

The “communications to Council” packet released with last night’s agenda included dozens of pages of correspondence on the issue not previously released to the public. They indicate that the City has long been aware of the problem and that less expensive solutions have been tried, but to no effect according to the residents.

Homeowner Roberto Lopez, who has been prominent in the neighborhood’s recent push to resolve the issue, wrote to McPherson on Nov. 10 that desperate residents had years ago taken “matters into their own hands and covered the manholes with various materials. Our hope was that the problem would be resolved with the infrastructure restructure project on Michigan Ave. Unfortunately, the project was completed last year and the smell worsened.”

Lopez asked McPherson why the Glencairn Neighborhood was getting priority in terms of new sewers when his neighborhood had been complaining about the smell — not experienced in Glencairn — for years.

“Is it because [Glencairn] is a more affluent, higher property value, or vocal neighborhood than ours?” Lopez asked. “Contractors and current public works employees have told us that the city is well aware of what the problem is and ‘band aids’ are the only things that they have been willing to do.”

In his messages, Lopez threatened to go to the media, and then mentioned being contacted by ELi about the matter.

In the same set of letters published with last night’s agenda, resident Kristin Schuette told the City, “I can assure you there are times when the smell is unbearable and we have to close the windows and retreat inside, avoiding outdoor play for my kids.”

Homeowners Jennifer and Danny Rosa joined the email thread to say that they had been residents of that area “for 23 years and this has been a continuous public nuisance that affects our quality of life.” They added they were grateful to Lopez for his leadership on the issue.

Resident Brandon Scott wrote, “This has been a problem for as long as I have lived in the neighborhood, which is over fifteen years now. That it is still a matter for discussion and not something that has been affirmatively addressed is almost incomprehensible.”

On Nov. 10, McPherson wrote to the residents, “We will look into possibly adding this project in the spring.”

On Nov. 17, she reiterated that “we can possibly start construction in the spring.”

But now — for unspecified reasons — the City has a new sense of urgency to resolve the problem. 

Last night, Lahanas did not explain why, or from where the funds for this project will be drawn and Council has yet to have a longer discussion of how federal Covid relief dollars may be spent. While Lahanas has indicated wanting to use that approximately $12 million in federal funding mostly on fixing and upgrading City buildings, like City Hall and the Hannah Community Center, there is strong interest among the public on using funds to fix infrastructure like sewers and roads, based on an ELi survey and social media comments.

Now the City is also soliciting comments from the public on the question of how to use the money.

Editor’s note: You can find Andrew Graham’s report from Monday on the Chesterfield sewer odor problem here. If you want ELi to keep reporting in 2022, we need your financial help now. Please donate today.

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