By Margie Plunkett
What’s more painful than nasty no-see-um bites? The question of who should pay to get rid of the pest — the town or property owner.
“All of you have beautiful homes and have moved to a beautiful area — and are upset by the bug problems. You moved to the nuisance,” resident Marrett Hanna said at a May Town Commission meeting. “It’s ridiculous and utterly elitist to think you can go to the town when you can pay for it yourself.”
The question of who pays joins an already intense discussion centering on concerns about the environmental soundness of pesticides used to combat no-see-ums.
“You can see that it’s a divided issue,” Mayor Ken Kaleel told Frank Clarke of Clarke Mosquito Control in Orlando, invited to the meeting to explain chemicals and the process used to eradicate no-see-ums.
The issue has re-emerged, along with the biting midges, after a year the town did not contract for spraying. Some residents have strenuously complained that the seemingly invisible — or is that invincible? — creatures are out in force, making it impossible to enjoy the outdoors for more than a couple minutes at a time without being eaten alive. Others, opposed to spraying, have argued it is not in the best interest of the environment, potentially harming the ecosystem and welcome insects like butterflies and bees. Opponents also point out that not all residents are affected.
Commissioner Terry Brown, who is opposed to spraying for environmental reasons, said, “There is an issue as to whether you should use public funds for a private purpose.”
In previous years, the town paid about $65,000 to $70,000 annually to Clarke for treatment that included spraying by truck once a week and applying a pesticide barrier on a limited number of properties.
The cost for a resident to treat his or her own property would be $200 a week, Clarke said.
The question of whether the town or individual resident should foot the bill doesn’t just involve money, but the effectiveness of spraying. According to Clarke, previous spraying of about 46 individual properties was meant to build a chemical barrier against no-see-ums’ migrating from their habitat, including the mangroves, to other residential areas, not just those being treated.
For the individual property owner, it begs the question of if they are responsible for the no-see-um problem and for paying for a service that could benefit other town residents as well.
“I’m not raising no-see-ums on the property,” said Robert Happ, who asked Clarke how much treatment costs a homeowner and had previously produced a petition signed by residents in favor of spraying. The mayor and commissioners questioned Clarke on the effectiveness of barrier spraying without the weekly treatment by truck, which they discussed as a possibility if the budget supported it and requested a quote from Clarke. The barrier is applied by workers walking each property and spraying insecticide with a backpack. The truck had kept to roadways, spraying at dusk, a peak of daily no-see-um activity.
The truck treatment was intended to kill no-see-ums its spray contacts, keeping the population down by preventing them from laying more eggs, Clarke said. The barrier technique goes for the “harborage area,” coating foliage, including the backs of leaves, with a chemical that kills no-see-ums for about a week. The no-see-ums typically hide under leaves until they fly out when they’ve detected carbon dioxide that exudes from their would-be victims.
Insecticides aren’t effective against no-see-um larva, Clarke said. And another method the University of Florida has experimented with in South Florida — killing the no-see-ums after attracting them with carbon dioxide pots — isn’t commercially viable, he said.
Commissioner Brown wondered if the barrier method would keep no-see-ums from returning to the swamps from whence they came.
“They’re not going to be attracted there,” Clarke said. “They’re migrating toward their food source — your residents.”