Something foul is on the wind on Naperville’s southwest side.
Homeowners near 248th Avenue and 95th Street are troubled by a strong odor that came to the neighborhood three weeks ago, when the city began bringing truckloads of leaves to vacant land west of their homes to spread it out for tilling into the soil once the ground has warmed up enough to do that.
The leaves had been stockpiled after fall collection, city officials said, because the crops growing in the fields normally used for the process at that point in the season were experiencing an unusually late harvest.
City officials have responded to the residents’ concerns, but the homeowners aren’t confident the steps taken will resolve the problem.
In an email sent Tuesday to Mayor A. George Pradel and all eight City Council members, a resident of the Penncross subdivision said the odor was keeping residents indoors and making some feel nauseous. The problem is likely to worsen once spring arrives, the writer said, because the fields hold water after heavy rain. The email’s author requested anonymity, citing concerns that publicized criticism of the city’s actions could hinder progress being made on the problem. Others who contacted The Sun about the issue also declined to have their names printed.
Councilman David Wentz went out to the site shortly after the leaf relocation began, and did not deny there was an offensive odor.
“I noticed a stench the night of Dec. 28, and didn’t know where it was,” he said. “There was an atrocious smell that came from moving mulching and decomposing leaf piles from one location to another.”
The city has taken steps to reduce the odor, Wentz said, including application of lime that will help speed decomposition.
By this week, when Councilman Paul Hinterlong went out to check on the matter in response to the email, the air quality appeared to have improved.
“Definitely you can smell it. I think it’s dissipated quite a bit. It could have been worse when they dumped it and spread it,” said Hinterlong, who thought it smelled like commercial mulch. “Certainly it was strong. ... It was potent, but that’s what it smelled like.”
Responding to the email on the council’s behalf, Public Works Director Dick Dublinski said he halted the trucking of leaves to the site as soon as he learned of the problem on Jan. 10.
The city takes leaves to nearly a dozen area locations, including the field next to the “Kiss & Ride” lot off 95th Street; a composting field at 103rd Street and Plainfield-Naperville Road; land around the sanitary treatment facility also on Plainfield-Naperville Road; the McDonald Farm property on Knoch Knolls Road; and a field along 135th Street in north Plainfield.
“Given the volume of leaves collected this season, all these alternative locations have been filled with the maximum allowable amount per the farmers directions and under EPA regulations,” Dublinski said in the email.
Regarding the site eliciting the homeowners’ concerns, which is owned by Pulte Homes Inc., he said the city has been talking to farmers to see how best to cut the bad smell.
“When I was out at the site Wednesday morning, I noticed a slight ‘stench,’ which is to be expected because when leaves are spread, they become aerated and the decomposition process begins to accelerate,” Dublinski said. “The odor from this decomposition process should dissipate within 72 hours after aeration.”
An array of variables have contributed to the problem, he said, including heavy rains in the fall that at times rendered the fields muddy and inaccessible for the leaf-hauling trucks.
“Then by late November, the weather shifted to snow and our winter operations started (earlier than usual for us) meaning staff and trucks were prioritized to clear streets and keep them safe before any leaves could be transported to the fields,” Dublinski wrote.
The trucking operation to the field on 248th began Dec. 27, he said, and continued on three more dates over the following two weeks.
“In all, we brought about 350 semi-truck loads of leaves to the field. That equates to roughly 5,000 cubic yards of leaves,” he said. “We still have approximately 250 semi-truck loads to transport to fields.”
That has the homeowners doubtful that they’ve seen, or smelled, the last of the problem. The only viable remedy, the email writer said, would be to move the leaves again, this time to a dedicated composting facility out of the area — and the cost for that would be prohibitive.
Wentz was cautiously optimistic that the issue has been remedied for now.
“From what I can gather, this was a unique situation because of the scarceness of places to drop the leaves,” he said, noting that the volume of leaves collected by the city last fall was estimated at nearly 20 percent more than usual.
Hinterlong noted that the unique confluence of factors hindering the process this year isn’t likely to recur.
“It was just an unfortunate situation where we had to work with Mother Nature, and she’s just been wreaking havoc on us for the past six months,” he said. “Obviously we’ve been doing this for years and years, and this is the first time anything like this has happened.”