Public under siege lashes out at mosquito abatement district

Moab Mosquito Abatement District Manager Libby Nance, right, and Tim Graham, chair of the district’s governing board, engage with residents upset over the overwhelming number of mosquitoes in the area following a massive hatch in the wake of heavy spring runoff. Photo by Doug McMurdo

The Moab Mosquito Abatement District announced Wednesday, July 3, that they hope to fog the eastern side of the sloughs sometimes this week. “This is not a guranteed event,” said Manager Libby Nance, “as the old fogger could break down again.”

The announcement came after meetings on Monday and Tuesday concerning the severity of the mosquito problem in Moab this year.

The latest announcement is a reversal of the Mosquito Abatement District governing board that had announced Monday it had to conserve resources and would not be fogging for mosquitoes (see related story). But Grand County Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird authorized an emergency purchase of larvicide and reserved the airplane needed for an aerial assault on the mosquito/larvae-filled sloughs in the Matheson Wetland Preserve. But the company that produces the payload is short on product and the pilot who delivers it is busy, so much so, they might not arrive for another 10 days, said Baird on Wednesday morning, July 3.

Timing is of the essence because another hatch has already begun, according to Libby Nance, manager of the abatement district. “The worst is yet to come,” she said.

Baird told the Grand County Council at Tuesday’s meeting there were two options available to spray between 600 and 800 acres of water-logged mosquito breeding habitat, one significantly more expensive than the other. A company calledCentral Life Sciences, said Baird, offers a larvicide that would last for three weeks for $26,250, or a 35-day product for $51,750. The larvicide the abatement district uses, by comparison, is effective for seven days.

The pilot, based out of Ogden, cited a figure of $21,500, for totals of nearly $48,000 or more than $73,000 for both plane and payload. The abatement district’s 2019 budget is $40,000.

The mosquito in the ointment, however, is one of logistics. The product must be trucked from Texas to Ogden, where the pilot is based – and the pilot won’t be available until Sunday, July 7. Baird also said it could be difficult to find a truck driver willing to haul the product over the holiday weekend.

While the larvicide will do nothing to reduce the adult population that’s vexing residents and tourists, the hope is that it would reduce the next hatch. The river continues to flow high with repeated flooding of sloughs.

Citing concerns over the safety or toxicity of mosquito control, Baird in an email told The Times-Independent the larvicide, S-methoprene, is target specific, considered nontoxic and suited for fish habitat. Larvicide kills only mosquito larvae, while the chemicals used in fogging are indiscriminate. Should West Nile appear in the mosquito population, Nance said there is no doubt the district would then “fog everything.”

Baird said he made the decision after speaking to council Vice Chair Terry Morse, the county’s liaison to the Moab Mosquito Abatement District board. The potential for vector mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus seemed high – no mosquitoes in Utah have tested positive, but they have been found in neighboring states and it is likely it will migrate.

“Considering the risk I don’t see any alternative,” said Baird, who said the infestation constitutes “a legitimate emergency” and a “pretty significant threat to public safety.”

Regarding the abatement district’s lack of funding to fog – opting instead to reserve resources if and when West Nile shows up – Baird suggested the county and district beef up its budget and establish an emergency reserve for high water years.

While council members unanimously consented to the expenditure, concerns were raised regarding whether there was a need to fog. Curtis Wells said he thought it was “good going this route.” He supported fogging and suggested the public would benefit if provided a timeline on how long the infestation would last.

He also asked the council to consider another expense to address fogging, especially on the eastern side of Grand County.

The news was not good. “It could last a couple months,” said Nance. She said the district’s fogging “discharge plan” doesn’t allow for fogging unless a virus is detected. She said the outcry from the public – both for fogging and against it – has been about 50-50.

“We can do a lot better than this,” said Wells.

Council Member Mary McGann suggested the county meet with city officials to discuss purchasing a new truck and fogging machine to replace “the dinosaur” in use now. The truck was made in the 1980s and the fogger mounted in its bed is from the 1970s.

For now, however, residents will have to bear down. “We’ll probably get West Nile virus this year, “ said a fatigued Nance. “The airstrike would reduce the [mosquito] population, but the worst is yet to come. It’s grim, people.”