Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Stamper Wants Rat Inspections Of Excavations

Could the city possibly check every construction project for rat infestations?

By - Nov 2nd, 2021 05:07 pm
Street rat. Photo by Edal Anton Lefterov, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Street rat. Photo by Edal Anton Lefterov, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II is concerned that construction projects are disturbing rat nests and sending the rodents scurrying about his district.

“Since I’ve been the alderman in the district I’ve always had concerns and I’ve always received a lot of calls about rats that infiltrate the area after a development,” said Stamper to members of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee on Oct 26. “The last few times it has gotten out of control. Residents are calling me left and right about the infestation of rats in their neighborhood.”

He said he first noticed it when the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care was constructed at 2450 W. North Ave. The facility opened in 2015.

“I did some research and found this is common with development when you go into the ground and start to dig,” said Stamper. “After years of this occurring, I think it’s about time we try to fix this situation.”

His proposal calls for the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) to inspect every excavation site before, during and after any digging. Reinspection fees would be charged if infestations are not abated.

“Did you have a conversation with DNS?” asked Ald. Jose G. Perez, the committee chair.

“Not really, I don’t think I did. I just know this is happening,” said Stamper.

At least one of his colleagues isn’t sold. “On its face, this sounds like a reasonable ordinance, until you get into the details of the hundreds or thousands of excavations that take place in the city of Milwaukee every year,” said Ald. Robert Bauman.

“We would have to triple or quadruple the size of DNS to even attempt to take this on, isn’t that fair?” asked Bauman.

“I’m not sure, but I know we have a rat infestation problem in my district any time there is development,” said Stamper, who represents the city’s most impoverished district on the city’s near North Side.

Then the commissioner of DNS arrived to provide some answers.

“Excavations can definitely mean a tremendous range of things in the city,” said Erica Roberts. That includes digging for fence posts, replacing lead service lines or building a foundation for a 40-story building. “I can tell you in the simplest of terms, DNS is not equipped to handle this.”

She said in anticipation of the meeting her staff ran a simple calculation of building construction or alteration permits that could be impacted. “We found that there were 1,900 to 2,500 of just those types of permits annually over the last three years,” said Roberts. “That number will be much higher when we finally look at the scope of what he’s looking to do and prevent.”

It would result in 5,000 new inspections annually at a minimum. “This gives us concern,” said Roberts.

“I guess what we are going to have to figure out then is the level of digging or what type of digging is occurring,” said Stamper. “We just can’t accept all these rats to infiltrate a neighborhood. I didn’t hear any solutions about what you’re going to do about all these rats that come to the neighborhoods. We just can’t let these people dig and not hold them accountable for all the rats that come to people’s alleys and streets.”

“It’s obvious this isn’t a new phenomenon going on,” said Perez. “Is this the only time they come out when the ground is disturbed? Are they there the entire time?”

“I don’t mean to indicate that there aren’t solutions, I just want to be very transparent about what we can currently do,” said Roberts. She said rat baiting is a unique thing DNS does, because the department does it for free. “It is a labor-intensive process for us and it does take time.”

She said the city could explore moving the cost to permit holders. “The problem is those examination pieces themselves are very time consuming,” said Roberts.

DNS manager Don Schwaewe said state law limits the city’s enforcement actions to burrows within 10 feet of a residential structure.

He said the decision to do abatement for free was made decades ago after the city found it was more costly to calculate who was liable and attempt to bill the property.

He split Milwaukee’s rodents into two categories: surface or barely subsurface dwellers and subterranean dwellers.

“We know that there are normal surface dwellers and those are the ones we get most of the complaints about,” he said. The DNS veteran said they live in bushes, in building foundations, under porches and other places.

The subterranean dwellers live in sewers and other “out of the way places.”

“Eventually the subterranean dwellers become surface dwellers and become part of our problem,” said Schwaewe. “That’s a population that is very difficult to address, not just for the city but for any private pest control operator.”

“Many years ago we used to bait sewers in advance of city projects, with very limited success which is why we discontinued it for the most part,” he said.

Bauman, who represents the downtown area, said if Stamper’s proposal moved forward he wanted the ability for council members to opt out. “I don’t even know how you determine the presence or absence of rats on a project as large as The Couture,” he said.

Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs thanked Stamper for bringing the idea forward and said it’s an issue in her district.

“In all fairness, I didn’t even have the chance to meet with DNS. I’m sorry about that,” said Stamper. “I look forward to reaching out to Don, the commissioner and [Thomas G. Mishefske] to see if there is something we can do.”

The committee held the proposal.

Individuals with concerns about rats and other rodents near their home can call DNS at 414-286-2268

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us