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Become a Citizen Inspector of construction sites

Abuses persist, because citizens don't know what's going on.  When citizens become involved, contractors and City officials will show better stewardship for our environment.

Clean construction sites... mean healthy citizens... healthy lakes.  Help raise community standards.

Follow a construction site you pass by frequently
  • Take photos.  Always carry your camera.  Especially try to show muddy water going down the drain or into the lake.  Send them to  Take closeups, and also more distant photos to show where it's happening. Go out in the rain or right after--because that's when muddy runoff happens.
  • Start a petition and take it around to your neighbors, if violations continue.  Put up a lawn sign protesting the abuse.
  • Raise the issue at public meetings about new development projects.
  • Help spread the word that construction companies are harming our lakes!  Voice your concern to officials and politicians.
  • Create a record of the abuse. Compare what's happening to the site's erosion control plan, visible online.You can go to the City map, which lists some (but not all) construction sites.  On this site, click on each site, to see additional information, including the erosion control plan and inspection reports.
  • Once you've created a record--there are remedies.  If the building is seeking a LEED certification, you can block it.  You can sue under the Clean Waters Act, causing the company fines of $37,500 a day (plus get the abuser to pay your lawyer's fees)!  New businesses don't want to start out by antagonizing the neighborhood.
Common abuses to watch for
  • No tracking pad at the construction entrance, intended to prevent muddy tire tracks.  These are supposed to be 3" clean stone, a minimum of 50' long.  The stone is supposed to shake mud off the tires.  Frequently pads are missing, or too short, or dirty.  They are supposed to be kept clean enough to work, either by sweeping or adding new gravel.
  • Streets not swept.  The street beyond the tracking pad is supposed to be swept clean at the end of each working day, but this is widely ignored.  Any dirt on the street (or in the gutter) becomes a health hazard, and will flush to the lakes when it rains.
  • No filters protecting the stormwater inlets on the street.  Every inlet downstream--that the construction muddy water drains to--is supposed to have a filter, made of black fabric, and placed inside the stormwater inlet.  And, the filters are supposed to be kept clean.  Frequently they are missing, or not kept clean.
  • No silt socks or silt fence at the downside edge of the property. Muddy water is supposed to be retained on-site.  The site is supposed to be graded so muddy water won't leave, or if it does, it's supposed to be filtered by a silt sock.  Often these two kinds of barrier are present, but they are poorly maintained, or installed with gaps.
  • Stockpiles of soil or debris not protected.  The downstream sides of piles are supposed to be protected with silt fences or silt socks, or even by tarps over them.
  • Illegal pumping. When a construction hole fills with rainwater, the contractor has to pump it out.  But they are not allowed to discharge it into the gutter, stormsewer, or lake, without first cleaning it up.  They do this by pumping it into a big black bag, which acts like a filter.  Or, they may pump it into a dumpster, where the sediment settles out.  But if you see a bare hose dumping muddy water, blow the whistle!  
  • No gravel check dams.  If there's a place like a depression or gully--where a lot of water can move like a stream--they are supposed to block it with a dam of gravel.  This slows and filters the runoff.
  • Construction litter blowing off-site. Very common, but not allowed.  They should have a green wind fence, plus cover their dumpsters.  To suppress dust, they are supposed to drive slowly, spray water on piles of debris or dusty areas, and spray a sticky substance called polymer over dusty areas.  If you see lots of dust, that's unhealthy, and it's abuse.
  • Discharge of concrete washout. When a truck delivers concrete, they wash out the chutes when finished.  This grey mud is toxic, and so corrosive that it's a hazard to children in the neighborhood, or fish downstream.  Often they just wash it into the gutter, but this is strictly illegal.  The Health Department will prosecute, if you have photos!
How the law works

Contractors are supposed to employ the Best Management Practices (BMPs) mentioned above, and other BMPs as well. The ones required are listed in their erosion control plan.  Legally speaking, muddy water is allowed to leave the site, provided they are doing everything very conscientiously.

But practically speaking--if you see muddy water leaving the site.... or if you see muddy water going into a lake or stream...  something is failing.  So GET PHOTOS of the mud leaving, of the mud in the lake.  Then, show which BMP failed or was missing.

A single complaint isn't enough

Calling a City official won't do much good.  City inspectors have too much work, and are very "understanding" of contractors.  No fines are ever given.  You really have to make a lot of noise, and directly impact or embarrass the contractor, the developers behind the building, or the expected tenants.   You will have to work outside the existing system, to make the system better.

That's why this blog exists.  From constant exposure of bad behavior, and two lawsuits, we've seen slow improvement in Madison.   YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE !