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Local News

Joliet reconsiders ban on electric fences

FedEx wants one at new Joliet facility; advocates say they’re safe to use

Joliet has generally barred electric fences since at least 1981 and probably longer.

That could change if the City Council goes along with FedEx Freight’s push for a change in the city code so it can surround its new Joliet operation in the CenterPoint Business Center with electric fencing.

Electrified fencing isn’t dangerous these days, advocates say, contending that it basically gives the kind of electrical shock that you might get with friction from the carpet at home.

But it works, Brian Simikoski, FedEx senior security specialist, told a council committee earlier this month.

“It gets your attention and makes you uncomfortable. You don’t want to do it again,” Simikoski said. “Anytime we had a burglary and installed [an electric] fence, we never had a burglary again.”

Electric fence typically is installed behind chain-link fencing, giving potential intruders an opportunity to go away without testing it.

“FedEx is in the business of moving goods and shipping freight – not shocking people,” Simikoski said.

If the council agrees to change the city code, FedEx won’t be the first facility to get electric fencing.

The council in 2016 approved an annexation agreement that allowed Estes Express, a new trucking facility at Route 52 and Laraway Road, to install electric fence.

Occasionally, previous administrations have given verbal approvals for electric fences, Kendall Jackson, director of community development, said at a recent Land Use and Legislative Committee meeting.

But the city code does not allow it, and some council members want to keep it that way.

“You want us to change our ordinance to accommodate your business,” Council member Jan Quillman said at the Land Use and Legislative Committee meeting.

Quillman was talking to Cindy Williams, business development director for Electric Guard Dog, a South Carolina-based electric fence company that has joined FedEx in urging the city to change its code.

“We’re asking you to change your code to adapt to the newer technology,” Williams replied.

Williams provided a list of 44 local governments in Illinois – including Will County, Channahon, Romeoville and Bolingbrook – that allow electric fences.

The Land Use and Legislative Committee next meets Thursday, when electric fences could be on the agenda again. But staff does not have a proposal ready yet.

The Public Safety Committee also took up the issue at a June 5 meeting.

Council member Larry Hug repeatedly objected to the idea, pointing to the spectre of electric fences being erected all over town.

Hug said the city should not restrict electric fences to trucking businesses in industrial areas. If they are allowed at all, he said, they should be available to any business that wants it.

“You need to draft an ordinance that’s all or nothing,” Hug said. “Every business can protect itself the same way.”

Other council members, however, said the city could be more discriminating on where electric fences are allowed – keeping them in industrial areas where the public, particularly children, are not likely to come into contact with them.

“I think we open it up to all businesses, but we have to be very careful with where it goes,” said Council member John Gerl, chairman of the Public Safety Committee.

Council member Don Dickinson, responding to Simikoski’s comments that the shipments FedEx is trying to protect include pharmaceuticals and weapons, said Joliet should seriously consider electric fences.

“Everybody’s after the drugs. Everybody’s after the guns,” Dickinson said. “We should look into this.”

Given the difference of opinion, staff is working on a proposal that will provide the council with options, said Michael Schwarz, planning director for the city. Options could include keeping the ban, allowing electric fences with a zoning variance, or giving staff leeway to allow them with building permits.

“This current prohibition has been on the books since 1981,” Schwarz said, although adding that a ban on electric fencing could date back to 1966.

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