Fighting for bees in Skokie

July 28, 2013

Are honey bees welcome in Skokie?

Before we start this conversation, I want to call your attention to some facts. The number of people in the U.S. who are killed each year by “bee” stings (and nobody bothers to differentiate among bees, paper wasps, yellowjackets, and hornets) is around 50. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Safety Council, and the World Health Organization (WHO). you are more likely to be killed by

  • lightning strikes
  • tornadoes
  • legal execution (thank you, Texas)
  • air travel accident
  • electrocution
  • bicycle accidents
  • guns (well, DUH, we’re the United States of Armed-merica)
  • falling down
  • falling off a ladder
  • inhaling your food

That’s the kind of perspective I try to hold onto when I hear that one municipality or another is set to enact a ban against beekeeping, especially in light of what seems like an epidemic of bee deaths world wide. In this case, it’s the Village of Skokie. A couple of weeks ago I was copied on an email that was making the rounds of environmentalists and like-minded folk. At the center of this controversy was Skokie resident and beekeeper Theo Watanabe, who wrote:

Skokie’s argument is that we have small lots, live close together, and bees may bother our neighbors.  There was not a focus on bees being dangerous, but more that they are a nuisance to neighbors.  They didn’t seem to ‘get’ that bees are already present everywhere and having a hive here or there is not going to change anything.

At that point, Watanabe wrote that there would be a hearing on July 15th, at 8pm at Skokie Village Hall, where the new ordinance would be read for the first time at the scheduled Board of Trustees meeting. They would also be allowing public comment.

According to the local media coverage, about 16 people testified, and all but two were in favor of home owners being able to keep honey bees on their property. Unfortunately, Dr. Catherine Counard, director of the Skokie Health Department, was less than enthusiastic about beekeeping in her remarks. According to the Skokie Patch, Counard

said the decline of honeybee populations in the country is spurring concern that many crops and foods may not get pollinated and thus not grow. However, she said hobby beekeepers don’t keep bees in great enough numbers to solve the problem.

She was also concerned about potential risks of bee stings to people, particularly people who are allergic to them. Based on Skokie’s population, she said 1,300 to 3,200 people could be allergic.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have (beehives) on small lots with a dense population,” she said, noting that they might be better suited to other towns which have larger lots or more space between homes, so that bees would not be so close to neighbors.

Regardless, Watanabe thought that a lot of good came out of the hearing and she is now focusing on a future Board of Trustees meeting.

I welcome her to the show today, along with Oak Park beekeeper Debbie Becker, who was involved in a similar controversy in that suburb a couple of years ago. She wrote to tell me that the new ordinance, with all its restrictions, makes it difficult and expensive to be a beekeeper in Oak Park. How? Here’s a list of hurdles that beekeepers must overcome:

• A permit is required, along with a $75 annual fee
• Inspection of the beeyard by a health-department worker
• Registration with the state department of agriculture
• Langstroth hives only
• A source of water on the property near the hive(s)
• Bee colonies must be monitored at least every other week during the active season
• Detailed maintenance records are to be kept and produced upon request
• Beekeeper has to own the property (renters need not apply). No hives on vacant property.
• The hives shall be at least five feet from all property lines
• No more than two hives per property
• A “flyway barrier”–a six-foot fence or dense shrubbery in front of the hive, with a 10-foot flyway between the hive and the barrier
• The rest of the beeyard is to be surrounded by a five-foot-tall barrier–fence or vegetation
• A latched gate with a sign stating, “Warning–Beehives on Property”
• The village now maintains a registry of people who have proven, with a doctor’s note, that they have bee-sting allergies. Beehives may not be established within 150 feet of any resident who has registered for this list.

My advice to beekeepers: be careful what you wish for.

Debra Shore and the Watershed Management Ordinance

It’s an understatement to say that we’ve had a rainy year in the Midwest…so far. But as this Illinois State Climatologist blog post notes, that can change in a hurry. But those of us in the media (and I must include myself, unfortunately) tend to speak of these things in apocalyptic terms, saying that this or that event was a “100-year storm.”

Leave it to Commissioner Debra Shore of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) to set me straight. She sent out a newsletter with some interesting information, such as

When we refer to the 100-year storm, we mean there is one chance in a hundred (1%) that a storm of that magnitude will happen every year, not that such a storm will happen once every 100 years. A 25-year storm event means that there is one chance in 25 (4%) that such a storm will happen every year.

Well, heck, I didn’t know that. Here’s another myth that she destroys:

Another common misconception in some communities along the North Shore is that the Mayor of Wilmette (or someone else) has a magic key that unlocks the gate at the Wilmette Pumping Station to release stormwater from the North Shore Channel out to the lake. No one has such a key – it’s an urban legend. The gates are opened by agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers only when the water level in the North Shore Channel reaches capacity (about 4.5′ above the level of Lake Michigan). Opening the gates any earlier, as many mistakenly demand, would not only fail to provide any flooding relief, but also unnecessarily pollute our drinking water source.

She notes that this year’s flooding across Cook County (whether or not you call the events “100-year storms”) are a call for better stormwater management regulations. To that end, the MWRD has drafted a Watershed Management Ordinance (WMO) to establish uniform stormwater management regulations across Cook County.

Shore says the purpose of the WMO is to prevent flood damages that can result from upstream developments. Cook County is already two decades behind DuPage and Lake Counties, which have similar ordinances in place. You can read the draft ordinance for yourself by clicking on the link.

Then comes the important part, which is to submit your comments by email or postal mail by the August 9, 2013 deadline. You can also attend one of the three remaining public meetings in the next two weeks. All meetings are from 7 to 9 p.m.

Monday, August 5, 2013
Southwest Conference of Mayors
Chicago Ridge Village Hall
10455 S. Ridgeland Avenue, Chicago Ridge

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Northwest Municipal Conference
Mount Prospect Village Hall
50 S. Emerson Street, Mount Prospect

Thursday, August 8, 2013
South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association
1904 W. 174th Street, East Hazel Crest

Written comments may be submitted by either email or mail to the addresses below.


Catherine A. O’Connor
Director of Engineering
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
100 E. Erie Street
Chicago, IL 60611

It’s a pleasure to have MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore on my show again today.

I’m giving away 2 tix to the SETF “Down in the Dumps,” tour

A couple of weeks ago, Lisa Albrecht talked about being part of the Energy Solutions Ecotour, sponsored by the Southeast Environmental Task Force.,It went from coal plants to urban solar farms and everything else inbetween…and it was sold out!

Well, here we go again, on August 10, with the SETF Down in the Dumps Tour, from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. As the SETF writes:

It may sound nasty, by it really is a fascinating trip through the southeast side by comfortable coach bus, visiting a variety o f past & present waste sites (of which there many!) located in our area of the city.

We’ll tour these operations and learn how Chicago deals with garbage, sewage and waste treatment in general. This unique narrated tour highlights the Southeast Side’s overabundance of treatment facilities – huge landfills, recycling centers, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District wastewater treatment plant and sludge drying fields, as well as several former notorious illegal dumps.

The tour originates and ends at the Chicago Cultural Center downtown at Randolph & Michigan The regular cost of $35.00 is reduced for “early bird” registrants to $25 –which includes lunch at Phil Stefani’s Pier 37 Restaurant. This picturesque location is at the famed Harborside International Golf Course on Lake Calumet -a remarkable facility built upon a former dump!

Register by July 31 by visiting — there you will find a PayPal option or call 773-646-0436.

Or…you just might win a couple ot tickets on today’s show. Tune in!

The Starved Rock battle continues…petition Governor Quinn

Though I haven’t talked about it on the air for while, the fight to keep an open pit frac sand mine outside of the eastern entrance of Starved Rock State Park continues. I was pleased to receive a message this week that contained a pdf created by Ottawa, Illinois resident Ashley Williams.

She calls it the Starved Rock Frac Sand Mine Fact Sheet, and it beautifully encapsulates the issue in a couple of short pages. This is a document that you might want to keep handy. She has also started a Move petition called Governor Quinn: Stop the Mississippi Sand Frac Sand Mine Near Starved Rock! which already has more than 16,000 signatures on its way to 20,000. I signed it. I hope you will, too.

This Wednesday, Ashley Williams will be delivering petitions to Governor Pat Quinn at 1:00 p.m. at
The James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St, 16-100, Chicago, IL 60601. If you’re interested in joining her, show up in the Lobby of the Office of the Governor.