By Margie Plunkett
The town is being eaten alive.
No-see-ums are out in force, driving residents indoors.
“I haven’t talked to anyone in Ocean Ridge who hasn’t been bothered by no-see-ums,” Robert Happ told Ocean Ridge commissioners in April. “It’s a big, big problem.”
Ocean Ridge sprayed for no-see-ums for two years, but stopped for one year after residents raised concern about the safety of chemical treatment. The Town Commission has asked Clarke Mosquito Control to discuss the no-see-um problem at its May 4 meeting, to explain chemical safety and use, Town Manager Ken Schenck Jr. said, and commissioners will consider whether to resume spraying.
Happ wants Ocean Ridge to spray for the seemingly invisible insects — tiny flies also known as biting midges that thrive in coastal areas and whose sharp bites leave red, itchy welts. Happ gathered other residents’ signatures in support of spraying for the pests, but the subject was dropped at the town’s March meeting, he said. He described no-see-ums so bad that it was impossible to spend more than a minute or two outdoors.
Mayor Ken Kaleel contributed: “It is an issue and growing.” Commissioner Geoffrey Pugh pointed out that “by stopping the spraying, it’s brought up the severity of the problem.”
Residents have been vociferous against street spraying, according to Pugh, concerned about the harm chemicals may cause to people and wildlife.
Kaleel said the street sprayers were supposed to stop if they saw people, but that didn’t happen. More effective, the mayor said, is a technique that involves establishing barriers via a backpack sprayer, although it’s costlier. About 20 to 30 homes surrounded by mangroves, which attract no-see-ums, need to be sprayed to form a barrier, he said. Schenck estimated the previous annual price for barrier spraying was $65,000 to $70,000.
But Vice Mayor Betty Bingham wondered if the town sprays select homes for no-see-ums, whether other residents would expect it to spray their yards for other pests, say, June bugs. Kaleel said Ocean Ridge needs to get in writing from Palm Beach County Environmental Resource Management or the Department of Environmental Protection information on the safety of spraying and get it out to residents.