Davis: Lighted billboards? Smelly plants? Give us a call.
Two big suburban stories converged at the Glenbard Wastewater Authority plant.
The sewer plant, tucked between Glen Ellyn and Lombard, was drawing complaints of a toxic, rancid smell that had gone on for two months.
About the same time, we discovered the same sewer treatment plant property could be the site for two new lighted billboards that ignited complaints of yet another group of people in neighboring Lombard.
How either of these issues ultimately will be resolved is still unsettled, but the good news is the proposed billboards and the smelly sewer plant both received a proper airing, as it were, before a final decree was made.
Our involvement came to pass in the most old-fashioned of ways: telephone calls.
I got a voicemail from someone who lived near the treatment plant, which has been around for decades. But only in recent months has the smell gotten stronger and more pervasive, she said. I put Assistant City Editor Robert Sanchez on the story, and he determined we had a clear-cut case of a neighborhood up in arms. Residents told Sanchez they hadn't been getting satisfactory answers about the source of and plans to correct the problem.
Thursday morning, we posted a story detailing the residents' concerns, after putting in a call to the Glenbard Wastewater Authority. A few hours later, we got a reply and an explanation from the plant manager. Seems that the stink was caused by a new system that creates biogas, which is used to run the plant; it uses grease and other food waste to produce the gas. But too much grease was put into the system and that fouled up the works, creating a stink.
At a meeting Thursday night, more than 100 residents were told a solution is on the way. Although the timetable is vague, and the solution specifics are "very technical and use phrases you would hate (i.e. "reevaluate feed rates" and "monitoring thresholds."), Sanchez told me, the residents eventually may be mollified.
On the billboards, staff writer Marie Wilson also got a call. Even though many live where they'll be affected by the lighted billboards, most missed the news of the public hearing on the matter because of the 250-foot rule. That states residents who live within 250 of a proposed zoning action or such must be notified of the public meeting on said topic. To their credit, when some Lombard leaders heard of the non-notification of affected residents, discussion ensued on making the ordinance broader, so more people would hear about stuff like lighted billboards.
They know now, and many are vowing to make their feelings known at a Sept. 21 Lombard village board meeting, though the village delayed a vote until at least Nov. 2 to sort through all the issues involved.
Not every call to the newsroom results in a good story, but it sure does underscore the value of picking up the phone.