Looking at the canal behind her home in Huntington Woods, June Perrin notices something is missing — ducks.
“They don’t even come here anymore,” she said.
That’s because, Perrin said, the canal is filthy, littered with algae, weeds and dead vegetation choking the shoreline, resulting in an unsightly mess.
“It’s terrible,” Perrin said.
Village officials don’t dispute that claim, but say they are addressing the issue by working more closely with Clarke Aquatic Services, the village’s aquatic weed contractor since October 2011.
Councilman Jeff Hmara at the Aug. 15 council meeting called the condition of the village canals last year “deplorable.” This year, he said that condition has been upgraded slightly to “just bad.”
“There’s a lot of stuff floating out there,” Hmara said. “This is a pretty dire situation we have again for the second year in a row.”
Councilman David Swift was equally frustrated, telling Public Works Department Director Paul Webster he’s looking for “significant improvement” in the management of the contract with Clarke Aquatic or he won’t vote for it again.
“This is a big deal to our residents,” Swift said. “Many people live on the water, they bought there for a reason and they’re not happy campers. We have to fix this.”
Leslie Horowitz-Williams, who has lived in the La Mancha neighborhood for 24 years, angrily told the council the canal level behind her home is too high and the vegetation growth is well over 6 feet.
“If we get the wrong poof of wind … we’re going to get flooded,” she said.
Horowitz-Williams also said she has caught three water rats on her patio.
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “I’m supposed to live with water rats? I’m tired of them.”
On Wednesday, Horowitz-Williams said the village finally cut the vegetation growing below the canal surface. But she said that’s not enough.
“It looks nice and I can finally see the canal,” she said. “But the weeds will just grow back.”
Village Engineer Christopher Marsh said the village plans to spend $125,000 to conduct a comprehensive study of the canals. “That will put us in a place where we can create a plan to start modifying these canals,” Marsh said.
Webster said the village is working to develop and pay for a long-term dredging program to reduce organic sediments that lead to growth of invasive vegetation.
Although the condition of the canals has improved since the last council meeting July 2, Webster said the system is still dealing with too much algae and floating vegetation. Webster said the debris is dead plant material that comes up through the treatment process.
In August 2012, Webster said, the village renewed the contract with Clarke Aquatic for one year, but modified it to require the contractor to target specific problem areas by using multiple treatment chemicals.
The scope of the work was also changed, with Clarke Aquatic now required to inspect the entire system the last week of each month for floating debris and removing any debris found by the 15th day of the following month.
“As these issues arise, (the contractor) is working diligently,” Webster said. “We recognize the system is not where it needs to be … but we believe the contract is a workable solution.”
The area covered under the contract is about 240 acres, Webster said.
Village Manager Ray Liggins said before the contract was modified, the village discovered a section of the canal that wasn’t treated as aggressively as it should have been, resulting in more unwanted growth.
Liggins said cleaning the canals has been a “challenging issue,” but added Clarke Aquatic can handle the work.
“We have confidence this company has the know-how to do this work … and to keep the vegetation growth to a minimum,” he said.
Swift also said he doesn’t want the village to find another contractor, but would like Clarke Aquatic to report to the council more often on the canals’ condition. He would also like regular tours to see which areas are in good shape and which need more work.
The council agreed on bimonthly updates.
“It’s not an easy job,” Swift said. “But it has to get better.”