Mosquito district seeks suit dismissal
BRANDON — The BLSG Mosquito District has filed an addendum to its original permit request that includes additional information on what it is spraying in the Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury and Goshen areas and why it chose to use those chemicals. The addendum, filed with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and also sent to the Toxic Actions Center (TAC), was accepted by the state last week.
With that approval in hand, the BLSG has filed a petition for summary judgment in a lawsuit that opposes the permit.
The suit, filed by TAC on behalf of a handful of local residents, alleged BLSG did not follow strict state protocols.
“The TAC is worried about the effects in the community,” said Salisbury resident Chris Fastie, one of the litigants. “The members are worried about the practices of the BLSG and how they impact the water quality and the environment. The BLSG is required by law to demonstrate how they impact those areas and they didn’t do it.”
At the BLSG board meeting Thursday, Jeff Whiting, one of the Goshen representatives to the district, discussed the actions the board has taken.
“The addendum involves no changes in the operations that we actually perform,” Whiting said. “It does give additional information on what we do and why. The state has accepted that and we and the state both still believe the original was adequate.”
The mosquito district had to ask it’s member towns for additional funds for this year because of the increasing cost of legal fees to fight the lawsuit by TAC, which is represented pro-bono by Vermont Law School.
To date, the district has spent $41,668 on the litigation.
“We’ve spent $31,799 on lawyers since this started,” said BLSG Treasurer Wayne Rausenberger. “I got another envelope on my desk today with a bill for $9,874. None of those dollars killed a single mosquito.”
“You could squash the hell out of them with all the paper we’ve generated, though,” Whiting said.
The board talked Thursday night about the reasons why the issue has come to a head at this time. Salisbury had threatened to refuse the additional funding for legal fees from the BLSG budget in a separate article to be voted on Town Meeting Day, though ultimately townspeople agreed to fund the legal costs.
“I had only been to two of these meetings, so I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to stand up at town meeting and get it right when discussing things,” Salisbury representative and selectboard member Paul Vaczy said. “With me not being knowledgeable enough to clarify issues and the misinformation that was out there, it was like a vacuum of trust. The residents didn’t really know who to trust.”
Ben Lawton, Brandon resident and chair of the BLSG, was allowed to speak at the Salisbury meeting, but only about the lawsuit, which did not clear away mistrust and misinformation for the Salisbury residents. The vote to approve the budget for the BLSG, including the additional money for the lawsuit, narrowly by a count of 98-83.
With that in mind, board members discussed ways they could better inform the public of what they were doing and why.
“I think it goes back to what we’ve been saying,” Vaczy said. “We need to do a better job of being more transparent and informative. We need a way to get the information about when we’re spraying, what we’re spraying, and why to the public.”
Board members discussed several possible ways to achieve this and formed a committee to look into some new technology that may help them accomplish some of those goals. These include ways to send out emails or text messages to residents informing them of when they are spraying and also vehicle tracking devices that would allow residents to see where the trucks have been operating. Some of those trackers would even show whether the sprayers were turned on when they passed residents’ houses or not.
The board is also working on getting additional funding for larvicide treatments via legislation. Currently the only two mosquito districts in the state, the BLSG and the Lemon Fair district in Cornwall and Weybridge, equally split $140,000 in state funding for larvicide treatments even though the BLSG is more than twice the size of the Lemon Fair district.
Rep. Butch Shaw, R-Pittsford, Butch Shaw has asked the House appropriations committee for $140,000 for the BLSG.
“I stress this is an ask and is one among several million dollars worth of asks in the general fund,” Shaw said. “I will not know the results of my request until the budget is voted out of the Appropriations Committee; however, I continue to advocate for the funding with members of the committee until their committee vote is taken and the bill is acted on in the House.”
Shaw said it would then go to the Senate where it will need approval.
“I always remind people,” Shaw said. “Nothing in Montpelier is a sure thing until the ink is dry on the governor’s signature on the bill.”
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