Brookfield’s village manager on Sept. 26 told elected officials that his staff were doing “what we can and what’s reasonable” in response to numerous complaints of rat infestations primarily south of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad line.
After receiving three complaints through the village’s SeeClickFix service request app during the first four months of the year, according to data provided to the Landmark by the village, residents have lodged eight complaints through the app since June 1.
But what appears to have prodded a more concerted response in September was a campaign on social media to illustrate the extent of the rat problem on the south end of the village.
On Sept. 12 Laura Farrell, who lives in the 4000 block of Oak Avenue, went to the Brookfield Connections community page, asking the page’s more than 13,000 members who else had observed rat activity.
That post generated nearly 200 comments and follow up posts, one of which was a village map on which Farrell marked the location of every rat sighting reported to her by fellow residents.
On the marked-up map, taken from the village’s fall recreation guide, Farrell noted more than 60 locations – all but a handful south of tracks – where residents told her they had spotted rats.
“It’s been going on for quite a while,” said Farrell in a phone interview last week with the Landmark.
Farrell said she and her neighbors sat outside at night and witnessed rats going from yard to yard – their routes were regular and predictable, she said – on a nightly basis.
“In the last month, I’ve seen five rats in my yard – four dead and one live,” said Farrell, adding that numerous people reported seeing rats in Ehlert Park “day and night.”
“If this was your backyard, you sure as hell wouldn’t like it.”
Rat infestations are often the result of overflowing dumpsters or grease traps at restaurants in commercial area, but that does not seem to be the cause of the problem in Brookfield, according to Village Manager Timothy Wiberg.
Rather, the problem seems to be private residential properties in the neighborhood. When it comes to abating rat infestations on private property, the responsibility falls on the homeowner, not the village.
“I will tell you that staff has diligently driven the area, reviewed the area, and inspected properties. We cannot find and identify any one source,” Wiberg told trustees at their meeting on Sept. 26. “However, our property maintenance inspector has identified several properties that may be in various states of violation of property maintenance codes. The danger there is when there’s trash in the backyard, that’s where these rodents like to burrow and live.”
Community Development Director Emily Egan told the Landmark that in the past few weeks, the village’s property maintenance inspector had issued 11 notices of violation – essentially warnings – to property owners in the 4000 block of Sunnyside Avenue, seven of which could be associated with conditions favorable for attracting a rodent infestation, such as outdoor storage, unmaintained ponding water or evidence of feeding wildlife.
Another 36 notices of violation were issued to properties in the 3900 blocks of Elm, Park, Oak and Maple avenues. Of those 36 notices, 34 called out conditions that could be associated with a rodent infestation. Inspections are ongoing, with follow-up visits scheduled to track compliance, Egan said.
Wiberg said that while some communities initiate limited rat abatement programs to address problem spots in commercial areas, he didn’t feel doing so on Brookfield’s south end would be effective, since the Ogden Avenue commercial strip does not appear to be the source of the problem.
“We have looked, we have scoured behind all the Ogden Avenue restaurants and have not found an obvious area where that would be taking place,” Wiberg said.
Michael Garvey resisted the suggestion that the village place bait traps in alleys to kill rats, saying doing so won’t solve the problem if the root causes aren’t addressed.
“Putting rat poison and traps on village property in alleys is not a really safe or plausible solution until you eliminate the source of the rats, their breeding grounds,” Garvey said. “Putting out rat poison can affect pets and can be a danger to residents and small children … so I think the strategy we have is that we’ll try to clean up the individual properties.”
He also disputed a theory that empty garbage cans stored at Ehlert Park were the reason rats were seen in the park.
“[Public Works Director] Carl [Muell] had a private firm come out and check Ehlert Park and found no signs of infestation, and the public works facility on the south side, there were no signs of anything there,” Garvey said.
However, Wiberg said, that does not mean the village won’t attempt to implement a rat abatement program in the future. The village’s property maintenance inspector, Andrew Harrington and Egan were slated to meet with a representative from Cook County on Oct. 6 to get information on resources and firms they might use to target problem areas.
If elected officials decide they want a formal abatement program, said Wiberg, “We may come back to the board at the budget workshop in November and discuss perhaps budgeting anything we want to include in the fiscal ’23 budget to start a more comprehensive program.”
In the meantime, staff will produce a brochure explaining what homeowners can do to make their properties less attractive to rats, such as removing debris and mowing long grass.
That brochure will be posed to the village’s social media platforms and its information included in the next village newsletter, said Wiberg. It will also be given to anyone whose property is flagged by the village’s property maintenance inspector as being infested or ripe for an infestation.
“We are going to get this communication out as soon as it can be gathered, but I don’t want to give any promises that’s it is going to lead all these rats out of town,” Wiberg said.
In the meantime, Farrell said she is trying to round up neighbors on her block and others to hire a rodent abatement firm to deal with the infestations themselves.
“Something needs to be addressed until it calms down a little bit,” she said.