HILLSIDE, NJ — Hillside residents are speaking out about what many call a rat and mouse infestation in Hillside.
According to some residents, rats and mice seem to be proliferating at an alarming rate in several township neighborhoods, and sightings of the creepy critters are, to the dismay of many, becoming part of their daily lives.
Now Hillside residents have taken to Facebook to voice their frustrations — and horror — about the issue, with many calling on the administration to address the problem sooner rather than later.
Last week, dozens of residents posted personal stories, photos and videos of rats and mice in their homes and yards, on sidewalks and in the streets.
Andrea Ferreira, who has lived in Hillside for decades, posted on the Facebook Hillside Township community forum that this problem is relatively new. “This rat problem in town is out of control,” Ferreira said in her post. “My parents found one in their home inside the dog food. How did it get in the house? By eating its way through the window screen. I grew up here and rarely did I ever see one. The rat problem needs to be addressed! They are chewing their way in the house. Thirty-plus years living in hillside and never had this issue. We are beyond home remedies; the town needs to address this issue. I have seen many posts here about the rats. The problem does not seem to be going away. Looks like it is getting worse.”
Richard Carter chimed in on the forum conversation. “I’ve lived in Hillside for over 10 years now, never seen the rats in town at all,” wrote Carter. “About a week ago, I went for an evening jog and was shocked. On Liberty Street across the street from GameStop is a little alley next to a restaurant. I saw at least three huge rats in the alleyway digging in garbage and running alongside the building and into the back. These rats were at least eight inches long. Maybe bigger. Disgusting.”
Trina Marie Williams joined the conversation. “I’ve lived here all my life — 29 years,” Williams wrote. “Never seen them until this year. Saw one months ago, then nothing. Thought it was over until last week I saw another. Couldn’t believe it.”
Several residents believe that the many construction projects going on in the township have caused much of the issue, with several residents claiming that they have seen them at several construction sites throughout town. One Hillside woman said that she had started seeing them when sewer lines and pipes were dug up and replaced throughout town. “I live on Hillside Avenue and shortly after the construction was done rats were seen everywhere,” she told the forum.
“They’re out in the daytime and when getting in or out the car at night you can hear them running around or rustling in the garbage or through the grass. I’ve seen many posts about the rats since the construction ended, so I’m sure someone has called the health department about it. I’ve seen them walking across the streets like nothing and as of recently, when driving through Hillside, you’ll see plenty of run-over rats in the streets.”
According to some employees of the township, Hillside’s municipal building and police department is infested as well. “There are mice and rats running around inside and outside and all over the place,” a township employee who requested anonymity told LocalSource. “There are more than I can count.”
According to the source, there are holes in the walls at police headquarters, and the rodents can be seen climbing in and out through the walls. “The rats are everywhere,” the source said. “Secretaries open their drawers and find mice in them.”
Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson, along with Hillside Superintendent of Public Works James Valentine, told LocalSource in a phone call that the rodent issue in town is being actively addressed but that there is not an infestation, as many residents have called it. “It’s not a rat infestation,” Garretson said.
Garretson maintains that the rat situation in the municipal building is being exaggerated by some and that a walk-through of the building would not elicit any visual of rats or mice scurrying through the halls and under desks as some are saying.
According to both Garretson and Valentine, much of Hillside’s rat problem can be attributed to several recent and ongoing construction projects throughout town, such as projects along Liberty Avenue and all of the construction going on at the municipal building. In addition, an old overpass on Rt. 22 that was removed in order to install a new one saw an increase in the problem. Between the constant construction and with sewer pipes being dug up, Garretson said, there is bound to be an increase in rats. “There was heavy construction at the municipal building and off Hillside Avenue,” Garretson said. “There was reconstruction with American Water and digging up pipes, and a new Walgreen’s across the street. The residential area has not been impacted.”
Garretson also noted the construction of new developments as an issue as well.
In addition, Garretson maintains that the railroad tracks down Rt. 22 have a history of rat issues. “Historically, that has been a concern.” Also exacerbating the problem are the highways that surround Hillside such as Rt. 78, Rt. 22, and routes 1 and 9, according to Garretson.
According to Valentine, extermination service providers have been brought in to assess the situation. “We’ve brought in multiple providers,” Valentine told LocalSource in a phone call.
Valentine also noted that the rodent issue is occurring only in specific areas of Hillside, and that that these locations are being dealt with specifically. “Every geographical location will have their own rodent remediation,” said Valentine.
According to Garretson, rodent issues are not confined to Hillside. “They’ve identified this as a statewide issue,” Garretson said. “Clearly the administration has been on top of the situation. It’s something that we are aggressively looking at.”
An aggressive plan to remediate the situation is in the works, according to Garretson, and the township is almost ready to carry out a definitive plan of action to get rid of Hillside’s pesky critters. “We’ve been finalizing our plans and working with the departments collectively,” Garretson said.
The plan, said Garretson, is a comprehensive one, and the township is reaching out to residents and business owners, specifically restaurants, about how to help mitigate the situation. “We are taking on every issue and we’re not focusing on the chatter,” said Garretson. “We’re taking a global approach. We do understand the residents’ concerns.”
But Garretson claims that residents must do their part in helping to control the rat problem, including employees at the municipal building. “There is food left out and open wrappers on desks,” Garretson said. “I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, but there is a public awareness component.”
Valentine and Garretson say that they will be pre-treating many areas in town and will be taking an aggressive and proactive approach. “Public awareness is townwide, and we have a number of folks going out and talking about cleanliness throughout town.”
Garretson said that if there are residents who have concerns with rodents on their properties, then they should contact an exterminator. That said, Garretson maintains that if residents reach out to the township, she will send someone out to their homes to assess the situation.
An informational sheet, as well as a newsletter is, according to the mayor, forthcoming.
Garretson said that some residents are using Facebook for negative purposes. “They’re using it to launch a number of distractions,” said Garretson, who maintains that not many residents have contacted her about the issue. “I’m a solutions person. I love when residents express real concerns. We take it very seriously.”
While an anonymous source has informed LocalSource that OSHA has been called about the issue, Garretson said that is not true. “There have been no violations from OSHA on this matter,” said Garretson.
Arthur Kobitz, president of the Hillside Board of Health told LocalSource in a phone call that residents have been complaining about the rats for years, and that the township used to bait the rats by placing traps in the sewers. The traps, however, became too expensive for the township and they were taken out of the budget.
According to Kobitz, town council members have said that they are being bombarded with complaints from residents about the rats. “There’s a major problem in town with rats,” Kobitz said. “I’ve heard people complaining at council meetings over the last couple of years. I’m very disappointed and disgusted with it.”
Kobitz also believes that residents need to be proactive when it comes to the rat situation. “People need to bait their own properties,” said Kobitz. “People don’t want to take care of their own properties.”
Kobitz said that another problem is that there simply are not enough officials in town to handle some of the more pressing issues. “The code enforcement officers are doing the best they can but they’re only part-time,” Kobitz said. “One code officer doesn’t even drive.”
According to Kobitz, there is currently no DPW director, health director or building department director in Hillside, and this can cause projects to be stopped mid-construction, which could possibly be adding to the issue.
“Projects come to a halt and buildings are in disarray,” Kobitz said.
In response to Garretson’s statement that plans are in the works and that the issue will be dealt with within the next few weeks, Kobitz questions why Garretson did not call in exterminators to remedy the problem months ago. “Why didn’t she do this a few months ago?” said Kobitz. “The council was willing to sign off on it now but she hasn’t done anything.”
As for the municipal building, said Kobitz, he is shocked by its condition. “As BOH president, I am appalled that our building is that dirty,” said Kobitz. “People should not have to come to work and see mouse and rat crap on their desk and have to clean it up.”
Several residents voiced frustration, stating that in general, Hillside seems to be falling apart at the seams. “From what I’ve been hearing, the only way to have ourselves heard are the town council meetings but I’ve also heard that when you sign up to speak they basically draw out the meetings so no one really ever gets to have their issues heard,” Ferreira wrote. “It’s so sad that the town maintains itself off the taxes we pay but none of the residents can honestly tell you where their taxes are invested. Streets are filthy, rodents everywhere. Not all, but a good majority of my neighbors don’t care about their properties and the town no longer feels safe — very different from when I was a little girl. My family has invested in Hillside for decades and now myself and whoever has been in charge has allowed our town to crumble and it’s so sad.”