Cahokia Heights, IL
Today, the community group Centreville Citizens for Change and more than two dozen residents sued Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District and the City of Cahokia Heights in federal court, in response to years of raw sewage pollution and stormwater flooding in the community’s homes, yards and streets resulting from the defendants’ severely deteriorated, malfunctioning, and poorly designed sanitary sewer and stormwater systems.
In this lawsuit, Centreville Citizens for Change alleges that Commonfields has been discharging raw sewage into this residential community in violation of the Clean Water Act. Centreville Citizens for Change and the individual residents are seeking a court order to stop the illegal discharges. In this lawsuit, residents are also seeking damages for the many harms that the sewage and flooding issues have caused to their yards and homes. Many of them cannot use their yards and have had to make many repairs to their homes. In a separate but related lawsuit, two additional, individual residents are suing Commonfields and Cahokia Heights for the harm caused by sewage and stormwater system failures.
“I’ve been out here for 28 years. This change from Centreville to Cahokia Heights hasn’t done anything; nothing is cleaned up; not with a three-man crew. They haven’t changed anything,” said Walter Byrd, a longtime Centreville resident and Centreville Citizens for Change leader.
“I have lived in Centreville for 28 years. It is time for them [officials] to poop or get off the pot,” said Yvette Lyles, another longtime Centreville resident. “We are still calling each other to see if water is flooding one another’s homes. Just recently in March we were worried about flooding, and we don’t want to go through this again. We are tired — enough is enough.”
“I have lived in Centreville since I was 15 years old. The change from Centreville to Cahokia Heights I hoped would be a better move. We have not seen any change yet,” said Mary Anthony, who has lived in Centreville for decades. “The mayor Curtis McCall Sr. met with us and said they would clear the canals and they have not maintained them.”
“When I first moved back here 12 years ago, I first received a bill from Commonfields of Cahokia”, said resident Lester Goree. “I was told that Commonfields was responsible for maintaining the sewage pipes, but sewage was coming out of the ground and into our homes. Why was I paying a bill for sewage pipes when Commonfields was not and continues to not maintain their system?”
In April, Centreville Citizens for Change gave Commonfields a 60-day notice that it would sue under the Clean Water Act. The notice alleged that for the past five years — and long before — the District has been discharging raw sewage from its sanitary sewer system in Centreville, and this foul water also flows into the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The District discharges sewage from a ditch and pipe on the block of North 82nd Street, between North 80th Street and Bluff Street, a residential area. In addition to the Clean Water Act claims, the lawsuit seeks to make individual residents whole for the damages to their homes and yards.
“The horrific sanitary conditions that Centreville residents face day in and day out is another example of municipal indifference that Black, low-income communities face in America,” said Nicole Nelson, executive director of Equity Legal Services. “Commonfields’ and Cahokia Heights’ negligence in providing basic sewage and stormwater services has subjected these residents to unacceptable safety and health hazards.”
Centreville Citizens for Change is an organization made up of residents of the predominantly Black community of Centreville, now part of Cahokia Heights, is represented by Earthjustice. Individual residents are represented by Equity Legal Services and the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council. In addition to this litigation, these three legal organizations, and the Natural Resource Defense Council, are partnering with residents to advocate for the end of the sewage discharges and stormwater overflows and to make residents whole.
“Commonfields has continually failed to address the flow of raw sewage that constantly floods Centreville’s streets, yards, and homes, and flows into our waterways,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Debbie Chizewer. “We will fight until the flow of raw sewage stops.”
Centreville Citizens for Change and the residents are seeking short-term and long-term solutions that will address not only the sewage pollution, but also the subsequent chronic flooding and public health crisis ravaging this community.