CHAMPAIGN - For 43 years, Dorothy and Gus Chrisagis have lived in their Chalmers Street home next to the Illinois Central tracks.
In that time, they've watched the neighborhood transform from families to student housing. They've watched the endless sojourns of the homeless making their way along the tracks. They even suffered patiently when the circus trains used to park on the sidings there, with their elephants and their prolific bowel production in uncomfortable proximity.
Nuisances all, but tolerable until the latest intrusion - a block-long mound of dirt, parts of which reach 20 feet high, stretched alongside the railroad within steps of their back door.
The dirt comes from the Abbott Power Plant site, which is undergoing a massive $60 million remodeling and expansion to provide co-generation capabilities for the campus power plant.
?We can't open our windows,? said Dorothy Chrisagis. ?We can't go outside. The silt has seeped through the back door and into the basement. I was so upset yesterday and the wind was so strong, I even said something I don't usually say. Somebody has to do something about this.?
But which somebody has been elusive.
The Chrisagises have complained to city officials, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and various University of Illinois offices.
Thursday afternoon, the UI's Public Affairs Office said the dirt would be removed to another location as soon as the contractor could put together the crews to do the job and get it all moved.
?It'll probably take a couple of weeks,? said spokeswoman Robin Kaler. ?The folks at Abbott said if they were doing anything that exacerbated the problem in the neighborhood, they'd take care of it.?
That's good news for the neighborhood, though some wonder why it took this long.
Champaign City Council member Kathy Ennen first noticed the problem last July. She returned to the neighborhood in February as she began campaigning for the April election.
?I really did a double-take. I couldn't believe how big that pile had gotten,? Ennen said. ?We were kidding we should sell tickets to kids to ride their mountain bikes on. It could've been the city sledding hill.
?But seriously, something had to be done. Dirt was everywhere. Even with the windows closed, it'd blow in. It was a health problem for the whole neighborhood,? she said.
Kaler said the UI had attempted to be attentive to the problem.
Last August, the UI got complaints about the soil washing into the Chrisagises' driveway and garage. The contractor cleaned it up and built a silt fence, basically black plastic stretched across some wooden stakes. They returned in spring to build the fence up more.
?That didn't do a thing,? said Mrs. Chrisagis.
City officials from the city planning department to the neighborhood services office to the building inspector's office said their hands were tied.
No ordinances apply to the maintenance of dirt piles, such as keeping them covered, said Building Safety Supervisor Garry Bowman. And even if there were such ordinances, it's always problematic enforcing city ordinances on university or state property. In this instance, the land being used by the UI belongs to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
?Several of our departments tried to look into this,? Bowman said. ?It just seems to me it's pretty clear what the right thing to do was.?
Ennen said she appreciates the Chrisagises taking the lead in raising the concerns for the neighborhood.
?They understand there's going to be a mess in a construction project. But you expect it to at least be temporary. This hasn't been,? Ennen said. ?I'm glad it'll be taken care of.
?On the other hand, if they didn't do anything, the Chrisagises could've had the best seat in town for the Fourth of July fireworks.?
You can reach Phil Bloomer at (217) 351-5371 or via e-mail at email@example.com.