Mosquito control swatted

Grant Lawrence, right, a member of the board of directors of a Camano Island mosquito control district, takes questions from a number of people at the Island County Law and Justice Center Monday before a hearing on the issue. - Matt Johnson
Grant Lawrence, right, a member of the board of directors of a Camano Island mosquito control district, takes questions from a number of people at the Island County Law and Justice Center Monday before a hearing on the issue.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Rob Lewis, president of the Island County Smart Growth Coalition, equated a mosquito control district proposed for Island County to a hangover Monday.

It is a hangover the county will avoid for now, as the Board of Island County Commissioners wouldn't even vote at a public hearing Monday to approve sending the proposal to voters.

"I can't believe the public would vote for it," said Commissioner Mac McDowell, who has opposed the idea since it was brought out publicly in February.

Island County Health officials wanted to form a mosquito control district to prepare for the anticipated migration of West Nile Virus -- a disease that is spread through mosquito bites.

The afternoon hearing was standing-room only as people swarmed into the commissioners meeting room at the Law and Justice Center to comment on mosquito control. Many attending the meeting argued that the threat West Nile Virus poses is miniscule and that the powers of the district would be a greater threat to public health and people's rights.

Laurie Keith, president of the Whidbey Island No Spray Coalition and an opponent of a control district, said more people die from the flu each year than from West Nile Virus. She argued that the $75,000 need to put the issue on a ballot could be better used for education efforts.

The proposed election for a mosquito control district would have asked voters to decide on two measures. One would form the district, while the other would have asked for a 10-cent-per-$1,000 property tax levy.

People attending the meeting argued that a control district would have too much power over private property.

"A mosquito control district could wind up like a hangover," Lewis said. "It's too easy to get, too hard to get rid of and while you're suffering through it, all you can say is 'What was I thinking?'"

He added that West Nile Virus doesn't pose a serious enough threat to form an agency. He said the county should just monitor the situation.

The powers of the control district would have allowed district employees and contractors to enter private property to survey and eradicate mosquitos. Camano Island resident Melinda Gladstone didn't like that idea.

"No paternalistic agency has a place in our backyard," she said.

Still others at the meeting questioned the health effects of using pesticides. Lori Oneal of Clinton said the chemicals used to protect public health, such as DDT and Malathion, have damaged human immune systems in the past. She highlighted referred to the use in the past.

In past discussions of the issue, Island County Health Department director Tim McDonald noted that a control district would use larvicides in still waters, not spray pesticides, to control mosquitoes.

There were several people in attendance who did support creating a control district. Bill Stipe of Greenbank said he gets bitten up to 30 times a day during the summer. He also attested to the effectiveness of larvicides.

The majority of the people who commented at the hearing opposed the formation of a control district.

After a couple hours of listening to public comment, it only took a couple of minutes for the commissioners to decide not to go forward with the district.

Commissioner Mike Shelton said that he does see the potential threat of West Nile Virus, but said it's not great enough to justify forming a district. Commissioner Bill Byrd agreed.

The health department's McDonald said he was ready for that outcome.

"This wasn't unexpected," he said.

He said the health department is moving forward with an educational program to inform the public about how to prevent mosquito breeding, the proper use of larvicides, and the state laws concerning mosquito control.

Roger Case, Island County's health officer, said he got a lot out of the public meeting and will use some of the information in forming an education plan.

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