Bug districts do battle with mosquitos, seek more info from public

ADDISON COUNTY / BRANDON — The area’s mosquito problem is at its peak right now, and the Brandon Leicester Goshen Salisbury Insect Control District has its hands full.
The majority of swarmed residents in the four-town district are flooding their local town offices with calls asking when mosquito spraying will take place, while a few are using social media to find out how to get on the “no-spray” list.
BLSG and the area’s other mosquito authority — the Lemon Fair Insect Control District in Cornwall, Bridport and Weybridge — are trying to educate their constituents about how to get relief from the stinging critters.
The issue came up at the regular Brandon selectboard meeting Monday night. Brandon resident Wayne Rausenberger, who is the BLSG Treasurer and Brandon representative, said one of the district’s spray trucks was chased by a resident the night before. The man did not want his property sprayed.
“When the driver told him what he had to do, he said ‘I’m not doing that,’” Rausenberger told the board. “We’re in the process of streamlining about what we’re asking for, but some people can be very unreasonable.”
Right now, property owners like organic farmers and others who do not want their property sprayed with insecticide must get a copy of the tax map, indicate their property on the map, and mail it to the BLSG with a request not to be sprayed.
It’s a tedious process, property owners say, especially in this modern age of instant electronic communication. Property owners also have to notify the district annually. The BLSG says it needs the tax map information to keep on file and refer back to in case a property changes hands. At a recent BLSG meeting, however, the board amended the no-spray zone policy to say that once a property owner has sent in the tax map and met with BLSG officials, homeowners can renew the no-spray request via email or written request without submitting a tax map. Organic farmers, however, must submit a map each year, per Northeast Organic Farming Association requirements.
Existing no-spray zone requests must be updated before April 15 annually.
The other issue is general spraying information and communication. A daily message is recorded on the BLSG hotline, 247-6779, which tells callers where spraying last took place and where it is expected to happen next. Callers who want to talk to a real person must wait until the very end of the message.
Rausenberger said the BLSG hotline received 56 calls one night last week.
Brandon Town Manager Dave Atherton said many people are calling the town to complain about the mosquitos.
“We are fielding a ton of those calls,” Atherton told Rausenberger. “People don’t realize that the (BLSG) district has nothing to do with us.”
The only connection to the towns is monetary. Each member town pays into the BLSG for operating expenses. The BLSG is managed by a board made up or representatives appointed from each town. The only paid employees of the district are the spray truck drivers.
In addition, the BLSG is also trying to spread mosquito larvicide in the swamp areas of Whiting and Salisbury without an airplane. The district used to use the plane owned by the Lemon Fair Mosquito District in Cornwall, but the district sold the plane last year. Now, larvicide has to be distributed manually by volunteers in waders, a time-consuming process covering roughly 600 acres of swamp where mosquitos breed.
BLSG Board Chair Ben Lawton said Tuesday that he, Brandon State Rep. Steve Carr and Agency of Agriculture officials had a conference call meeting on July 10. He had presented the BLSG proposal for the purchase of an Argo, a six-wheeled amphibious vehicle to treat the swamp areas in Whiting and Leicester with mosquito larvicide. For about $25,000, the BLSG could use the Argo to drop larvicide in the swamp.
While the BLSG is responsible for the cost and treatment of adult mosquito spraying, or adulticide, the Agency of Agriculture pays for the cost and application of larvicide to kill mosquito larvae in the swamps where mosquitos breed. That’s why the BLSG is hoping the state will pay 75 percent of the cost of an Argo vehicle.
But Lawton said the state wants more information on the proposal and that for now, the BLSG will continue the manual application. No decision was made on the state’s contribution.
The BLSG has had a trying season, which began with a controversy over the district’s spray certificate that temporarily suspended spraying on private roads. In May, state officials told the district that its non-commercial spraying certificate limited spraying to the municipal right-of-way, which excludes private roads. The issue was resolved once the paperwork for a commercial certificate was submitted and approved.
Anyone in the BLSG mosquito district member towns with a question or complaint should call the BLSG hotline at 247-6779 for more information, not their local town office. Listen to the entire recorded message and then wait for a live operator to leave a message.
For more information on the BLSG, visit the website at blsgmosquito.wordpress.com.
Meanwhile, the Lemon Fair Insect Control District takes a slightly less aggressive approach to fighting mosquitos. It does not spray insecticide to kill adults, but instead spreads larvicide to kill mosquito larva before they hatch.
As with the BLSG, the Lemon Fair district gets substantial financial assistance from the state to pay for the larvicide and application of it. State funding, however, doesn’t kick in until testing of water sources shows a minimum of 20 larvae per sample. So far, according to Lemon Fair board Chair David Dodge, none of the tests have met that threshold so the district has not spread much larvicide this summer
The only application has been on a few acres off Lemon Fair Road in Weybridge that LFICD field coordinator Craig Zondag spread by hand. In addition to a heavy mosquito presence on Lemon Fair Road, Zondag has also received reports of bad mosquito outbreaks along Hemenway Road in Bridport.
The Lemon Fair district recently launched an online survey to gather data from people in the three towns it serves to better understand the mosquito problem and perhaps even get funding for more larvicide.
“We’d like to get enough people to complain (about how bad the mosquitos are) so we could say (to state officials) that the 20 threshold is just too high,” Dodge said. He suggested that a result of five larvae per sample should perhaps trigger a larvicide drop.
The online survey is available on the town of Cornwall website, Cornwallvt.com. Dodge said the district is also asking anyone in the three towns to call the hotline at 349-5407 to report any mosquito activity.
“We want people to be as actively engaged as possible, that’s the only way can know where they are,” Dodge said.
The three staff employed by the LFICD have been busy. Dodge said they are out testing for mosquitos pretty much every day — either dipping into standing water and looking for larvae or collecting adult mosquitoes in “light” traps.
The next challenge will be when the mosquito species known to carry the Eastern equine encephalitis virus hatches, usually in August.
EEE was first detected in Vermont in 2012 when two local men in Brandon and Sudbury, respectively, contracted the disease and died. The deaths prompted the state to perform aerial spraying over the region that year, increase funding for a new lab and better testing. While EEE has been detected in horses in subsequent years, no other human cases have been detected in Vermont. Mosquitos in the area continue to test positive for EEE, however.
The virus also was detected in mosquitos in Grand Isle last year.
West Nile Virus, which is also mosquito-borne, has been detected in the state since 2003, mostly affecting horses. Annually since 2011, roughly two to three human cases are reported in Vermont, but no one has died from the disease.
Reports of mosquitos have been typically bad in the BLGS, with areas outside of the wind particularly bad. Zondag said that elsewhere in the county he has heard of patches of pesky mosquitoes around Bristol Pond and in Middlebury along Otter Creek south of town.
Since the rains of June have ended he said farmers are cutting more hay, meaning that mosquitos can’t hide in the tall grass and may be moving more into woodlands.
Regardless of where they concentrate, Dodge doesn’t think it will get as bad as it was a decade ago.
“This is a big contrast to ’05 and ’06 when you could walk outside and be carried away by the mosquitos,” he said.

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