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Illinois EPA, state health department probe sewage incident at Cortland mobile home park

CORTLAND – A few weeks passed before Debbie Jones realized it was sewage being pumped onto the ground yards from her trailer.

“I didn't know what they were doing,” Jones said, referring to the people she saw setting up a pumping system in a large white tank outside her home in the Cortland Mobile Home Park.

The system was set up to alleviate a backup in a septic tank by pumping sewage from the tank onto the ground. Jones said the system has been in place about two months.The Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the Cortland Mobile Home Park for dumping sewage onto the ground for weeks.

The park is outside the town limits of Cortland, at 300 S. Somonauk Road. It includes about 90 units and is owned by Chicago-based Zeman Homes. Zeman also operates the Edgebrook mobile home park in Sycamore. Zeman Homes CEO Dee Pizer did not return calls for comment Monday.

According to Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold, the park licensees cannot be fined under the Mobile Home Park Act. The law does allow officials at the state public health department to suspend or revoke the park's operating licenses, though.

“In general in an investigation, we look to see are the proper systems such as electricity, water and sewer are set up correctly,” Arnold said. “But it's hard to say what else we will look at in this case.”

Kim Biggs, spokeswoman for the Illinois EPA said her agency could issue an enforcement action that could lead to fines. State officials will be onsite Tuesday to investigate, Biggs said.

The situation came to light Friday after officials with the DeKalb County Health Department received an anonymous tip at 1:30 p.m. that sewage was leaking into Mound Rest Cemetery east of the park. The empty lot where the tank sits also is bordered by Route 38, the Cortland Animal Hospital and mobile homes.

After bringing in a pumping truck to temporarily prevent sewage from being dumped on the ground, county officials notified state officials, who will be handling the investigation because the park is in rural Cortland.

Greg Maurice, DeKalb County director of environmental protection, estimated several thousand gallons of untreated sewage have been pumped onto the ground since the system was put in place.
Although she could not speak to the specific situation at the Cortland site, Arnold said bacterial disease is the primary concern associated with exposure to sewage.

Disease tops the list of concerns for Jones, who could see the tank and a puddle emitting a faint sewage smell next to it from her living room window Monday afternoon.

“I'm worried the water we've got is nasty,” Jones said. “I buy bottled water, and it's scary to think about when you're taking a shower.”

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