BY MAT CLOUSER
BRANDON — The Otter Creek Watershed Insect Control Board met on May 19 to review their operations report and discuss the prevalent issues facing them this year and beyond, particularly regarding funding, staffing, and public outreach.
“There have been no delays due to budget concerns,” said Doug Perkins, chair of the OCWICD board of trustees, addressing rumors about why spraying has started later this year than in the past.
“There are several factors at work when applying the adulticide—temperature, wind, and rain are among those,” he said. “We’ve had an abnormal spring, and the weather conditions have to be just right for us to spray.”
“CDC light boxes are another contributing factor,” said Perkins. “They use a combination of factors to attract insects at one of 65 rotating locations. We can’t just spray if we feel like it. There has to be a specific density of bugs to justify spraying.”
In fact, spraying has already begun in some places, including Brandon, where OCWICD trucks rolled out this past Thursday night into Friday morning, as well as in Leicester.
Perkins acknowledged that OCWICD has been feeling a bit of a financial crunch, and he cited a lack of state funds and staffing issues as the two main culprits.
“State funding is only $70,000. We’d have to pay a helicopter to fly up from the North Fork of Long Island to do the aerial larvicide treatment. They charge by the mile and by the acre. It would cost us $40,000 just to do an initial spray.”
Perkins also said a dwindling supply had compounded the rising cost of mosquito treatment. “The larvicide costs about $250 per 40-pound bag, and it’s only going up. One bag will only cover four acres. We have 6,000 acres in our district. The math doesn’t work.” he said.
Though the towns each contribute a set amount to the budget, it hasn’t been enough to cover the costs of aerial larvicide treatments for several years, mainly since the OCWICD’s ability to use the Lemon Fair Insect Control District ceased the operation of its spray plane a few years back.
“We purchased an ARGO [an all-terrain amphibious vehicle] a few years back,” said Perkins. “It’s useful, but due to the dense brush in certain swampy areas, it’s not a 100% solution.”
There has been some talk about the district purchasing a fan boat to get into some of the more challenging areas to reach, but the cost there is also prohibitive. “It’s a nice idea,” said Perkins, “but it’s not actively being pursued.”
OCWICD is working to address the funding issues, most recently in a letter addressed to Gov. Phil Scott that aims to secure additional grant monies from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
As for staffing, OCWICD’s shortage is no different from what many employers face throughout the state and nation. “We’ve had as many as eight full and part-time drivers, all fully licensed by the state. At the moment, we’re down to one full and three part-time drivers.”
Active recruiting efforts are underway, although the skills needed make the position somewhat challenging to fill due to the combination of driving and pesticide licenses required and a familiarity with the locations that need to be sprayed. “Absolutely, we’ll work with potential new hires to assist in certification,” said Perkins.
The board recently ordered a run of 1,000 informational packets they plan to distribute throughout the insect control district. “The packets are designed as handouts for the general public,” explained Perkins, “so folks can learn about who we are and why we do what we do and to educate them about what they can do at home to help minimize mosquito breeding areas.”
Perkins said he was unsure exactly when the packets would be available, but felt confident that it would be sometime before the board’s next meeting, 7 p.m on June 16 at the Brandon Senior Center.
“Folks have a right to spray if they want to, and they have a right not to spray if they don’t want to,” he said. “Our role is as a service provider, and people should know what we are doing—absolutely.”