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City stops spraying ditch for mosquitoes; ownership disputed

Ward 4 residents want to bite back against mosquitoes thissummer but can’t get any help from the city.

According to city officials, the insects’ spawning grounds areon private property, and they are not allowed to spray there.

At issue in a growing dispute between residents who live in thearea of Storm and McNair Avenues and the city is whether a drainageditch that runs through the neighborhood is private or cityproperty.

Residents believe that, since the ditch was built by the city todrain water from the neighborhood during rains, it belongs to thecity. The city, however, contends that it cannot spray the ditchfor mosquitoes because it runs through private property, and thecity is not allowed by law to spray on private property.

“The ditch belongs to the city and is accessible by Storm andMcNair Avenues,” said Patti Perkins, who lives on McNair Avenuenext to the drainage ditch. “If they’re worried about privateproperty, every homeowner would also give them permission.”

Permission is not required, said Ward 4 Alderman Bob Massengill.The problem is not that the city will not spray, but that theycannot under the law.

“We are not allowed to go on private property to spray, so wehave to do the best we can from the street,” he said. “We’ve doneextra spraying in that area. They’re spraying just about everynight.”

Additional spraying is a common occurrence, he said.

“When we find an area with an abnormal population of mosquitoes,we do try to step up spraying in that area,” Massengill said.

Repeated telephone calls from the newspaper to Mayor BillGodbold were not returned.

Perkins admitted that Street Department Superintendent JimmyGriffin and Massengill are doing everything they believe they can,but the problem cannot be solved without spraying the ditchitself.

Other area residents agree.

“There are a lot of weeds and stuff in the ditch, so when itrains water backs up and a lot of mosquitoes breed back there,”said Dorothy LeBlanc, who lives on Storm Avenue adjacent to theditch.

LeBlanc is convinced the ditch belongs to the city, and theyhave an obligation to spray it and keep it clean.

“I feel it’s city property, because first of all I didn’t digit, and because I have seen the water from the neighborhood drainthrough this ditch whenever it rains,” she said.

The mosquitoes are annoying, LeBlanc said, but she is concernedmore about the safety risk to her 18-month-old daughter, Lucie,from mosquito-borne viruses, such as West Nile.

Normally, she and her daughter would play outside for severalhours a day, but since mosquito season began in early spring theyhave been forced from their outdoor activities.

“We would like to do more, but it’s too buggy,” she said. “It’spretty miserable to be back there for more than 10 minutes.”

In order for Perkins, who has Lupus, to work in her gardencomfortably and safely, she has purchased a mosquito net suit thatshe wears whenever she ventures outdoors.

The suit covers her entire body and cost her about $52, shesaid.

“I didn’t feel I had a choice. This is my passion — beingoutside and in the garden — and it’s pretty frustrating not to beable to do that,” Perkins said, waving her arms in a panoramic viewof her large garden, complete with bridge and benches.

Perkins said there must have been a policy change within thehalls of city government during the past year because the ditch hasbeen sprayed by the city for the past 11 years. It was only thisyear, she said, that the city began claiming they couldn’t spraybecause the ditch was on private property.

“Jimmy Griffin and our alderman have always been verycooperative, but the policy has apparently been changed by thecity,” she said.

Perkins is also concerned about the danger posed bymosquito-borne diseases.

“I get eaten just walking to the mailbox,” she said. “It is ahealth issue. It is a dangerous issue. We have elderly, youngchildren and residents with compromised immune systems living inthe immediate area.”

The elderly and young children are the most susceptible to WestNile because of their failing or developing immune systems,according to the State Department of Health.

Lupus is only one of several diseases that compromise immunesystems, Perkins said.

“If health workers would only come take a look at the ditch, Ithink something would be done,” Perkins said.

Perkins said she has not contacted the health department becauseshe believes this is a city issue. She does not discount thepossibility of contacting health officials in the future.

“I’ve been trying to work with the city, so I have not contactedthe health department,” she said. “I don’t think I should have tosince the ditch is city property.”

The health department may not be able to help anyway, accordingto Kelly Shannon with the department’s public relations office.

The health department only plays an advisory role on preventionand clean-up, she said.

“We don’t make decisions about mosquito spraying,” Shannon said.”That’s done at the local level.”

The health department can eventually determine the area is ahealth hazard and mark it as an area that needs to be controlled,she said, but “there would have to be enough documentation to provethat the area is a health hazard.”

Massengill said only if that were to occur could the cityspray.

“We can only spray on private property if it is determined it isa health hazard,” he said. “That word usually has to come from thehealth department.”

In addition to the health concerns, residents admit they arealso annoyed by the blood-sucking biters.

“To me,” said Perkins’ Storm Avenue neighbor, daughter HollySlay, “it’s more of an aggravation than a worry. We have a largeoutdoor deck on the back of the house, and we can’t use it becauseof all the mosquitoes. That means no summer barbecues and outdoorcookouts.”

Slay and her husband, Tim, are, however, concerned about thepossibility of the insects infecting their neighbors with any ofMississippi’s potentially fatal mosquito-borne diseases.