DOH Confirms West Nile Threat
Despite weekend spraying to eradicate the West Nile virus in Rockaway, many local residents were up in arms Tuesday night at a town hall meeting held at the Resort Nursing Home in Arverne to address the mosquito problem.
Although the meeting was introduced and mediated by City Council Member James Sanders, Jr., the anger and irritation of community residents, which was made clear from the beginning, was largely directed at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) and the Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks).
Frustrated residents voiced their concerns over the DOH’s refusal to disseminate information regarding the threat of West Nile in their neighborhoods at an earlier date. Other residents fumed over the DOH’s negligence in picking up dead birds, which were found throughout the Rockaways and reported to the DOH to no avail.
One resident, Jonathan Butler of Beach 68 Street, explained that he called 311 after finding both a dead crow and a dead sparrow, but had to wait three weeks for the DOH to pick up the birds. In addition, Butler could not get any information concerning the testing of these birds from the Department of Health.
In response, Jessica Morris, the Community Relations Director of the DOH, insisted that residents pick up the phone and call 311.
In an attempt to quell concerns over the concealment of confirmed Rockaway West Nile cases, James Gibson, the Assistant Commissioner of the DOH, said that his agency did not want to "mislead" or "alarm" community residents. Instead, the DOH official emphasized that the most important information for residents to focus on was that West Nile had indeed been found in the Rockaways, and not which particular birds from what particular area had tested positive.
Unfortunately, Rockaway residents were not relieved by the city agency’s attempt at their "protection." Many residents wondered how the DOH could think it appropriate to take it upon itself to decide when and in what manner public information concerning the threat of West Nile should be released to the community.
At the meeting, the DOH confirmed that three birds that were tested positive for West Nile have been found thus far in the Rockaways. According to Morris, two birds were found in Sommerville and one in Breezy Point.
A great deal of questions arose from residents who live in the vicinity of Dubos Point as to why their area had not been sprayed, despite being one of the most heavily mosquito-populated areas in Rockaway. According to Gibson, the DOH is restricted from spraying Dubos Point, located on Sommerville Basin because spraying cannot take place within one hundred and fifty feet of any body of water.
Because of that regulation, DOH and Parks officials have tried to contain the threat of West Nile by placing mosquito magnets and larvacide in Dubos Point. However, the task is made increasingly difficult due to the overgrown nature of the property.
To offset this problem and to avoid the high tide, Parks official, Jonathan Ellis maintains that the agency has cut paths in the marsh in order to get further inside to place the pesticide.
Residents were also distressed by the poor drainage systems throughout certain areas of Arverne. Standing water and garbage that has accumulated in and around catch basins in the area have been great breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The city has yet to clear the basins, however.
According to Gibson, major drainage projects are set to take place within the next two years, providing the city’s budget can handle it. Gibson also maintained that clogged basins are regilarly reported to the Department of Environmental Protection.
When asked whether they felt the meeting would bring about effective change in Rockaway’s fight against mosquitoes, many residents believed that the DOH officials took the "long way around questions" and gave responses that "weren’t that good." Some, like Jonathan Butler, believe "truly believe we’ll have the same problem next year."
Others remain positive as long as health officials and community residents continue to address the problem.
According to Barbara Hillary, president of the Arverne Action Association, "If the task force that is in place was effective, the questions posed tonight and the frustrations voiced would have been minimal. I hope this will be a new era for the task force."
Sharing Ms. Hillary’s sentiments was Fred Simmons, the Director of Constituent Services and a representative for Senator Malcolm Smith’s office, who strongly believes that the meeting "was a success in terms of the community making connections with the Parks Department and the Department of Health."
In addition, Simmons now feels as though a "new energy" was given to the previously established mosquito task force.
For many Rockaway residents however, the motto of the Arverne Action Association, "We judge success by results," speaks volumes.