LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — A mosquito control program will start in the spring following an affirmative vote at Tuesday's special town meeting.
Lanesborough becomes the ninth town the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project will operate in. The state-backed agency focuses on reducing mosquito populations and monitoring for infectious disease outbreaks.
"The bird will be the carrier, the mosquito that is present in the environment will bite the bird, take the virus into their systems and in turn spread it to humans," Superintendent Christopher Horton said of the enzootic cycle of viruses like West Nile and eastern equine encephalitis.
"We are able to focus our efforts in areas where that is taking place."
It will start for Lanesborough in the spring when the project will map out and identify possible breeding ground locations. Horton said there are both natural and artificial sources of mosquito breeding with the artificial being places like tires or unattended swimming pools with standing water and natural places such as beaver ponds and catch basins.
After mapping out and identifying the locations, the project will test for larvae and if found, treat the area with larvicide to kill off the mosquitoes before they hatch.
"We're going to find those standing water sites, test them for larvae and we are able to intervene," Horton said."We can't eradicate mosquitoes because of terrain and accessible terrain."
The project then sets up traps in various locations. Those collect mosquitoes, which are sorted and sent to the state laboratories for testing. Should there be positive signs of either of those potentially deadly diseases, the project will respond. That response means increased larvacide applications in the area and an adulticide spraying in a one-mile radius.
Many at town meeting, however, questioned the affect on the environment and pressed Horton on if there is any followup on any potential impact. Horton said the chemicals being used are low volume, are toxic to only mosquitoes and black flies, and stay suspended in the air until they disintegrate.
"There is not going to be collateral damage in the environment," Horton said.
There is no specific checking afterward though. Horton said the project is restricted in how much of the chemical it can use and the state's reclamation board has approved the process. He said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of the chemicals.
"The environmental impacts have already been studied and the label reflects that," Horton said.
Ray Jones has been in the business of pest management for decades. He said no home product one can buy to protect their properties on their own is as effective as the chemicals the Mosquito Control Project uses. He said only tiny amounts of the chemical are used.
"You can never treat your yard with the minute amounts they will. You will pollute your yard and they won't," Jones said.
Joining the project will cost the town about $14,800 per year. That is automatically pulled from state aid on the Cherry Sheet -- so essentially the town won't have to pay a bill, the state will just pull that amount from its annual aid to cities and towns allocation and send it to the project. Horton said the figure is determined by population, land area, and an equalization value set on the tax base.
"In our enabling legislation, we require a five-year commitment from a town," Horton said.
The town also allocated $4,500 from free cash to allow the project to start this spring because otherwise, the state funds wouldn't come in until at least July and by then not much work could be done before the end of the season.
The town's vote was close though -- it passed by a margin of 73-43. The residents weren't so much concerned about the cost as much as the possible harm the chemicals could have on the environment and human health.
"I don't see anything positive about this," one man said of people and animals being present for the spraying. Another said the project wouldn't just spray in response to disease, such as it did in Pittsfield, when it responded to nuisances possibly exposing children in parks to neurotoxins.
Horton said the response determination is made in tandem with local health officials and refuted claims that the chemicals are harmful to humans.
"The product is made to apply around people and pets. The product does not have to be used in response to West Nile finding. We have a protocol with the Pittsfield Board of Health whereby we determine if an adulticide application is warranted," Horton said.
Barbara Hassan wanted to make it clear that those working on the project do not need permission to go on private property. She remembers one day in the past when she saw one of the workers walking down her driveway and she didn't know ahead of time.
"It was unsettling to have a stranger walking down my property," Hassan said.
The Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project does have trespass authority and can go on private property as needed. The project is also allowed on wetlands without running into conflicts with the Wetlands Protection Act.
Horton said while they can, they don't go on private property without asking the owner first.
"It is difficult in this line of work to even know where property lines are. Some of these breeding grounds span town lines," he said.
In the past, the entire county had a mosquito control program. But in the 1980s, with the passage of Proposition 2 1/2 and the state no longer providing it, many towns backed out. In 2011, the project was restarted.
"In Berkshire County there wasn't serious surveillance done until 2011 and since 2011 we found West Nile in each of our member towns," Horton said.
Back then, Horton said the superintendent did a lot of cleaning out of potential breeding grounds. But when the project stopped, many of those areas were no longer maintained. That means there has been both an increase in the number of mosquitoes for a number of towns and presence of diseases.
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