Mosquito Relief Goes Unfunded
Mosquito season is about to begin and it seems Rockaway's skeeter-infested areas won't be getting the relief they did last year, because no one has allocated the funds for pesticide spraying.
"As of last week it has not been funded," Jonathan Gaska, Community Board 14 District Manager, told The Wave on Tuesday. "We're hoping that someone comes up with the money - the mayor or one of the [elected officials]." The cost of spraying - about $100,000 - is "coffee money" to the city and is sorely needed by the 40,000 to 50,000 residents who will suffer this summer, he said.
The DOHMH confirmed this week that it is planning to spray far less than it had previously recommended. "The city has committed to providing two nuisance treatments in the Rockaways in 2006," said spokesperson Eric F. Riley. The agency had recommended about five times as many sprayings.
Rockaway is not a West Nile Virus "priority area," Riley pointed out.
Gaska has been beating the drum on the mosquito issue at almost every community board meeting since last summer, which he described as "probably the best summer in 10 years," because of the relief from swarms of the blood-sucking insects. Residents in Arverne, Somerville, Edgemere and Bayswater saw a marked improvement as the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene waged a season-long spray campaign.
In an unusual budgeting scheme, the money for the spraying came from the Department of Parks and Recreation which, according to DOHMH, was supposed to be repaid with funds from City Councilman James Sanders Jr. But Sanders was accused of failing to hold up his end of the bargain in a recent letter from DOHMH to the community board.
"The Parks Dept will not be funding spray events this summer (unfortunately, Sanders did not reimburse them for last year's spray costs)," wrote Jessica Morris, who was then DOHMH Director of Community Relations. "Funding will have to come from electeds if you want the Rockaways sprayed. The estimated cost per spray event is $9,000. We do not recommend more than 11 sprays in the season (total cost: $100,000)."
Sanders fired off a letter of protest to DOHMH Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, in which he said the city bureaucracy frustrated his efforts to fund mosquito control to the point where he abandoned the goal all together. The Wave reported his trials and tribulations in January of 2005.
"I ended the conversation and funded schools instead," Sanders wrote. "I do believe that the primary responsibility to abate the mosquito problem lies with the DOH. However I am committed to working with you to resolve this problem."
Riley said the DOHMH "will continue to work with Councilman Sanders, Borough President Marshall and other Queens electeds to explore additional ways to improve the quality of life for their constituents."
The no-spray news troubled Arverne Civic Association member Laura Harris, who said last year was noticeably better. Without spraying, "we're going to be in bad shape this year, my goodness," said Harris. "Every year it's a problem. You can't even enjoy your own backyard."