Spraying restrictions debated
By Lee J. Kahrs
LEICESTER — In what local mosquito control officials are calling a “perfect storm” for breeding, the 2015 mosquito season may be one of the worst in recent memory, especially for residents living on private roads.
The first hatch of the season created mosquito swarms of epic proportions in areas close to lakes, rivers or swamps, which are used to dealing with high numbers of mosquitoes each spring and summer.
But this season is also worse right now due to the state enforcing a restriction on spraying private roads, something that had not been previously questioned much in the past several decades. Adding to the problem is the loss of a plane in a neighboring mosquito-spraying district that had been used to drop mosquito larvicide in the Cornwall-Leicester-Whiting swamp.
State officials, however, are downplaying the restricted spraying on private roads, saying a solution is a simple matter of paperwork that can easily be remedied by the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen Insect Control District (BLSG) getting a commercial license for an $85 fee. The Lemon Fair mosquito district operates under a commercial license.
The challenges faced by the local mosquito districts come just three years after mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis killed two men, in Sudbury and in Brandon, the first cases of the disease in Vermont. West Nile Virus has been detected in the state since 2003, mostly affecting horses. Since 2011, roughly two to three human cases are reported in Vermont each year, but no one has died from the disease, which is also mosquito-borne.
BLSG Chair Ben Lawton and Adulticide Coordinator Mort Pierpont appeared before the Leicester Select Board on Monday night, May 18, to explain the situation. They said while the BLSG has started spraying adulticide from its trucks, officials from the State Agency of Agriculture, which oversees the district, informed them last Friday that spraying must be limited to public roads.
“We were told we have to restrict the adulticide to the right-of-way,” Pierpont said. “No private property, no private roads and no school property.”
But that shouldn’t be a time-consuming problem, according to Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, in an interview with the Addison Independent last week.
“We’re aware of the situation down there and we’re very concerned about the mosquito outbreak,” Ross said, explaining that the department is ready and willing to help the district get a commercial license as quickly as possible.
“The quick solution is for the district to apply for a commercial license, and we’re ready to expedite that process,” Ross said. “We could make this happen in 18 hours if they did it right now.”
The BLSG holds a 7B non-commercial applicator license under the state’s 1991 pesticide regulation treating nuisance mosquitoes. Pierpont said the state is now considering the BLSG a municipality under the pesticide law, meaning the district has to work under the limitations of municipal roadways only.
But Pierpont and Lawton said they could not find anything in the 41-page pesticide regulation that supports the state’s finding.
“We’re a non-commercial applicator,” Lawton said. “So there’s a discrepancy I’m trying to clarify. It’s a new interpretation of what we can do.”
Pierpont said the new interpretation stems from what the BLSG calls “naysayers,” residents along the adulticide spray routes who opt out of being sprayed for personal reasons.
“There is some writing on the wall,” Pierpont said. “We have some naysayers and they will tell you point blank that it is their intention to stop all mosquito treatment.”
Last September, Vermont Law School filed a sweeping public records request for all documentation from the BLSG regarding the use of pesticides. The BLSG believes that the school was engaged to take up the case after one Fern Lake Road resident complained that her property was sprayed in 2013 despite a request not to be sprayed. A video of the spray truck was posted on YouTube as proof.
For its part, the BLSG said it does its best to honor no-spray requests, and that the driver in question had made a mistake. That spray truck driver is no longer employed by the BLSG.
Cary Giguere is the Agricultural Resource Management Section Chief at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. He said the restriction on spraying private roads is not a change.
“The BLSG has a government applicator license, which gives them the ability to spray on municipal roadways,” he said. “The same area that you would find a school bus or a snowplow on. They need to have a commercial operator’s certificate to spray private roads. It’s a paperwork issue.”
When it was noted that the district has been spraying private roads along the lakes for decades, Giguere acknowledged that public scrutiny has drawn the state’s attention to the issue.
“There are a lot more folks looking at what they’re doing and that brought this to our attention,” he said. “And had I been asked in the past about (whether they can treat private property), I would have given the same answer.”
Giguere said that having a commercial license would also allow BLSG to be hired by the state or non-district towns to do mosquito spraying. Currently, the district cannot spray outside of the four towns it covers.
“We’re not looking to prevent anyone from doing anything they want to do,” Giguere said. “We’re just looking at it so it’s being done correctly.”
But Lawton said the BLSG would have to talk to its insurance carrier and hold a board meeting and a vote before it can apply for a commercial certificate.
“We’ve talked about it and we’re considering it,” he said.
Lawton said until the issue is cleared up, the BLSG would have to spray only along public roads.
“The issue is down at [Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake], where you have a lot of private roads,” he said.
Meanwhile, under a thickening cloud of mosquitoes and dismay, Internet sites are lighting up with complaints. So are town office phone lines. Leicester Town Clerk Julie Delphia told the Leicester Select Board Monday night that she had five calls just that day. Pierpont said there were 75 calls to the BLSG on Monday alone.
The BLSG is funded through taxpayer dollars from each of the four district towns and is a line item of each town’s annual budget. All complaints and inquiries should be directed to the BLSG, at 247-6779.
On Front Porch Forum, lake residents in particular are frustrated.
“The mosquitoes in the South Cove of Lake Dunmore are unbelievable,” one person wrote. “Just getting from the car into the house is a struggle, say nothing of trying to get anything done outside.”
Pierpont said state officials told him that private road residents should hire someone commercially to spray their property.
Another key detriment to mosquito control this season is the loss of the airplane owned by the Lemon Fair Insect Control District in Cornwall and Bridport. The plane was used to drop larvicide into the 2,000-acre Cornwall and Whiting swamp areas, where mosquitoes breed. But Lawton said the Lemon Fair district sold the plane after last season because it was costing too much to maintain and insure. Now, volunteers in waders are dropping larvicide by hand, but it is nearly impossible to treat the roughly 500 acres of swampland in the BLSG district that way.
There also is the issue of funding. Although the state pays for the larvacide, Lawton said the release of that funding has been restricted in recent years. The state budget for larvacide in the BLSG is $70,000, and even though the number of counts in a typical test “dip” for larvae has been dropped from 50 to 20, the state requires a minimum of 1,000 acres in a larvacide treatment area.
Lawton said the BLSG has looked into retaining a helicopter service to drop the larvacide over the swamp area, but the cost is prohibitive at $10,000 per drop.
“We have 600 acres we could treat, and in order to do that, it would have come to $25 an acre,” Lawton said. “And the state was only going to treat for the cost of 1,000 acres, so we definitely couldn’t afford to do a treatment until we have more acreage (test dipped) and by then we will have another hatching.”
With the mosquito season now in full swing, the BLSG and area residents alike are hoping progress can be made and spraying can resume on both private and public roadways.
Ross said the Agriculture Agency wants to act as quickly as possible as well. “We want to help solve this problem,” he said, “not be part of a problem.”