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Island County develops plan to deal with virus threat

Almost two weeks after the Board of Island County Commissioners killed a mosquito control district proposal, County health officials are pursuing another way to prepare for the anticipated spread of West Nile Virus.

The plan, announced last week, has several parts, including utilizing stricter enforcement of solid waste codes and a public information campaign.

Health officials presented the early ideas to the county commissioners during an April 2 staff session.

In the future, look for the county to tighten up enforcement concerning junk tires which could help control the spread of mosquitoes.

"Tires are a very good, efficient mosquito habitat," said Island County Health Director Tim McDonald, referring to the water that can pool on the inside of tires.

One tire can breed more than 5,000 mosquitoes throughout the summer, McDonald estimated.

It is illegal to dump tires on public property, private property or in the water. People who have more than 100 tires need a permit from the county.

McDonald said he wants to work closely with the the county's solid waste department to develop a more permissive policy in eliminating tires. Currently it costs a person $6 to dispose of a single tire through the solid waste department. But Public Works Director Bill Oakes said reducing the fee would cost the county money.

McDonald said he would also like to see the county hold a junk pickup day similar to those held annually in Oak Harbor.

Commissioner Mac McDowell did not like McDonald's idea.

"I don't see why it's our responsibility to pay for someone else's junk," McDowell said.

As for a public education, health officials are looking to hire a public health educator to focus on West Nile. That position would cost $60,000 a year. The health department would pay for a position with a fund balance left from 2001.

Commissioner Mike Shelton questioned if using money would hurt the county's future ability to handle a health emergency. Everybody attending the meeting agreed that any employment changes should be done during the budget cycle to ensure the education component is prioritized with other county programs.

The final part of the health department's plan would be to monitor mosquito populations throughout the county.

McDonald would like to map the locations and types of mosquito larva and adults throughout the county. To do the monitoring, McDonald said a temporary, full-time environmental health specialist would be hired. A $30,000 grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control would fund that position. The county has already received this grant money.

Health officials have to work out the details of their plan before presenting it for approval by the commissioners.

The health departments plan comes after the commissioners refused to allow a ballot proposal on a mosquito control district to go to a ballot.

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