Huge sludge bag creating equally big controversy
By Denise Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org October 18, 2013 12:58PM
Some residents in Oswego are concerned about what will happen with this giant bag of sludge. | Denise Crosby~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 21, 2013 6:38AM
It can best be described as a giant flesh-colored blob. And if you’re prone to flights of fancy — as can happen this time of year — it’s not hard to imagine the blob as an alien creature that dropped from the sky and continues to steadily grow more bloated (ominous music here) until it takes over the world.
Or Odgen Falls. Which is the part of the world that matters most to the folks who live in the 320 homes in this Oswego subdivision.
In reality, the story behind the blob is not nearly as intriguing ... or threatening. But those Ogden Falls homeowners are none too happy because there’s still plenty of mystery surrounding it. And earlier this month, a group of concerned residents sent a letter to their homeowners association board asking for answers, including what exactly is in the bag, how will it be removed, when will the project be completed and what the heck is it costing them.
A few answers are becoming clear: The strange-looking bag is filled with muck and sludge that was sucked out of the subdivision’s pond back in August by Aqua Vac, an Indiana-based pond cleaning company that does this sort of work all over the country.
But since the end of August the blob has been locked behind a chain fence in a grassy area next to the pond like a giant beached whale, and homeowners say they aren’t getting answers to their remaining concerns.
Brian Pearl, vice president for Aqua Vac, explained to me that, depending on the weather, it can take from three days to three months for what he called “the bladder” to dry out, leaving behind rich organic dirt that can be used for landscaping. Aqua Vac, he said, offers two choices to customers: The company will take over the residue once it is dry, or, as is the case with Ogden Falls, the client is responsible for removing it.
The problem, say homeowners Chuck and Janet Aszman, is that for some reason Ogden Falls cut slits into this bag before it was dry, and the water is seeping into the ground that’s already a floodplain. A good rain, said Oswego Public Works Director Jerry Weaver, could send the muck back into the pond.
This controversy is not really a village issue, Weaver added, unless that seepage begins flowing into Oswego’s system. And if that happens, “Then I will be the one knocking on the door” of Board President Pat Schmitz.
The Aszmans and other residents accuse homeowners association leaders of keeping them in the dark about this project and other subdivision issues. After receiving numerous complaints about the bag, the board finally sent out a letter last week explaining it was a buildup of silt, damage from spring floods and the need to replace costly motors that set off a “chain of events to create a major problem.”
Weather is the “uncertain factor” in allowing the bag’s contents to dry out, the letter stated, adding that “remaining decisions are being evaluated and will be announced when known.”
The letter insisted the process was handled correctly and that it’s being paid for with association reserves. Homeowners have heard the cost is more than $20,000, but no dollar amount was mentioned in the letter.
Weaver says that, as far as he knows, this type of pond restoration was used only once in the village and the bags were smaller. He said he too tried calling Schmitz to get answers but could not reach her and she has no voice mail system. When I got through to her, Schmitz refused to discuss the issue, referring me, instead, to the homeowners association letter and property manager Brett Nemanich. He didn’t want to speak, either, except to offer assurance a certified company was used for the project.
The homeowners are certainly talking, however. On Saturday, a group that now calls itself Citizens United met for the third time to plan how best to proceed. Communication seems to be a key issue here.
They want the unsightly blob gone, of course. But more than anything, “We want a voice in how Ogden Falls is run,” said Janet Aszman, a retired teacher. “We can no longer tolerate this lack of communication and arrogance. It’s just not right.”