THE PROBLEM A barrel of old kitchen grease has been sitting behind an abandoned fast-food restaurant for months.
THE BACKSTORY Louis Fields had been calling city officials and agencies for more than two months, trying to get a steel drum removed from an alley off the 600 block of N. Franklintown Road in West Baltimore.
Liquid from the 55-gallon barrel, behind a former fast-food restaurant, was dripping down the alley toward the drain.
Fields was concerned that the contents were spilling near yards where children play. Since May, he said, he has called his City Council representative, as well as Mayor Sheila Dixon's office and the city's 311 complaint line, to discuss this and other problems, but no resolution has emerged.
Someone from constituent services at the mayor's office promised him in early July that the drum would be removed within 24 hours, but that didn't happen."They say they're coming, but they never show up," Fields said.
A safety officer from the city Department of Public Works' Division of Solid Waste went out to investigate and determined that the drum contained waste oil, according to DPW spokesman Kurt Kocher.
The drum is owned by Valley Proteins, a Virginia-based rendering company that restaurants hire to collect their used cooking oil.
The business recycles used cooking oil for animal feed and biofuel.
Even though the restaurant is closed, public works officials said the company committed itself to picking up the barrel by Friday.
A Public Works staffer stopped by the site yesterday, however, and noted that it had not been removed.
A chat with city agencies shows that this particular problem falls into a crack in the sidewalk that joins three city departments.First, the Health Department issued two citations regarding the barrel in May last year. But the Health Department's jurisdiction ends when a restaurant closes.
In that same month, the Department of Housing and Community Development took enforcement of trash and debris rules on private property from the Department of Public Works' division of solid waste, said Jason Hessler, acting director of Housing and Community Development's code enforcement's legal section.
The department uses a digital housing inspection system to track complaints that come in through the city's 311 system.
It shows that two citations were issued in June last year for trash and debris on the Franklintown Road, said spokeswoman Cheron Porter.
Hessler said that if inspectors visit a property and observe a problem, they hold the property owner accountable.
If properties have been long vacant, "We won't simply wait for the owner to clean it up," he said.
Instead, code enforcement agents will place a work order with Public Works' division of solid waste and put a lien on the property to recover the cost of the work - if anyone ever buys it.
Real estate owners are supposed to register properties they do not occupy so officials can contact them should problems occur.
Since April, Housing and Community Development has issued 2,200 citations for unregistered properties. But Porter couldn't say whether that had happened in this case.
So the barrel is still spilling its greasy contents, more than a year after the first citation.
WHO CAN FIX THIS Eric Booker, director and division chief, housing code enforcement, city Department of Housing and Community Development, 410-396-4170. Residents can call 311 to report problems.
Liz F. Kay
Watchdog has two happy endings to share this week.
Towson resident Charles Callow called to report with pleasure that two brand-new green metal benches had been installed at the bus stop on Goucher Boulevard at Acorn Circle.
The seats replaced two wooden benches at that location - one that was completely missing the wooden slats forming the seat, the other also in disrepair.
Callow and his neighbors had spent months calling the Maryland Transit Administration and other agencies to try to get replacements, to no avail.
But his call to Watchdog got results that he discovered after running an errand last week.
"When I came home, here's two beautiful new metal benches, clean and green and all," he said. "I was surprised when I got off the bus."
And let's not forget the listing cabin cruiser in the harbor at the end of Thames Street.
Colleague Rob Hiaasen, who first wrote about the abandoned craft in May of last year, discovered at the end of June that the city had paid a contractor $16,000 to get rid of the hulk.
The city will be reimbursed through a state grant, according to a July 9 follow-up article by Hiaasen.