The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) has ordered Triton College to removed numerous large piles of asphalt and other assorted waste materials that may include sewage sludge from Cook County Forest Preserve land adjacent to the college.
Last week the IEPA paid a visit to the campus to survey the dump site after receiving an anonymous phone complaint. Those officials subsequently ordered Triton Operations Director John Lambrecht to clean up the mess.
"They told him he'd have to remedy it as soon as possible," said the ILEPA's Jill Watson, who said a tentative deadline of Aug. 31 was established.
The 3.2-acre forest preserve property was turned over to Triton for use as a botanical garden site in November 1981, according to a memorandum of agreement between Triton and the forest preserve district signed by then-Triton President Brent Knight and Superintendent Arthur Janura.
Under that agreement, Triton agreed to be responsible for the cost of developing and maintaining the site and to "return the parcel to its natural state upon the request of the Forest Preserve."
Cook County Forest Preserve Commissioner Peter Silvestri, in whose 9th District Triton is situated, said he hadn't yet seen a copy of the agreement as of Monday, but doubted it allowed the current use.
"I'm sure the [agreement] didn't allow its use as a garbage dump," he said. "I'd hope the Triton administration is as upset as we are."
A reporter visited the botanical gardens in early May and took a stroll through the grounds. Several flowering trees greet visitors at the mouth of a curving path that winds through a variety of bushes and flowers, leading to several garden exhibits.
The rear of the property, however, is a different story. Immediately north of the fence just past the end zone of the old football field, long piles of asphalt stood over six or seven feet high, with other large extended mounds of what appear to be landscape waste and old uprooted bushes and root balls. The ground in between the various piles of debris is barren and compacted by vehicle tires.
It is not fully clear what materials were discovered by the IEPA officials, or what means were used to determine the substances present. An official report of the July 17 inspection had not yet to be filed in the IEPA's computer system as of last Friday.
Watson confirmed that the two officials did find "asphalt, landscape materials and concrete" at the dump site.
Marge Stabile, Triton's vice president for institutional advancement, said Thursday that the dump site was the result of an oversight by a previous director of operations, Joseph Tiddei, whom Lambrecht was hired last year to replace.
"Our previous operations director was unaware that materials were being stored there," said Stabile.
While not clear on exactly how the dumping happened, Stabile said that Triton officials believe the area was intended to be a "staging area," where refuse was piled awaiting pickup. That, she said, did not happen.
"That was wrong, and we're going to correct it," said Stabile, who added that the college "will do whatever it takes to make this right."
One person who might likely know the details of the snafu, Assistant Operations Director Tony Torres, whose responsibilities include Triton's 100 acres of grounds, did not return phone calls asking for comment last week.
Torres and Lambrecht oversaw the moving of the waste material to the football field. A front loader and dump truck were observed clearing the site Thursday and Friday. The waste material was dumped onto the old Triton football field, adjacent to the running track used by the Cook County Sheriff's Cadets Training center.
Forest Preserve spokesman Steve Mayberry said Thursday that neither General Superintendent Steve Bylina nor anyone in the Resource Management Department of the Forest Preserve had "received any type of notice or citation from the IEPA regarding anything related" to the dump site.
Three Triton trustees contacted by the Landmark-Thomas Gary, Diane Viverito and Irene Moskal DelGuidice-said they were previously unaware of the existence of the dump site.