AG: Private land OK for city mosquito spray

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 24, 2003

Residents of Ward 4 have gained new ammunition in a debate withthe city about mosquito spraying along a drainage ditch in theStorm and McNair Avenues area.

A Mississippi attorney general’s opinion appears to have broughtthe two sides into agreement.

The city can spray for mosquitoes, even on private property,according to a 1989 Attorney General’s Office opinion, although itis not required to do so.

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The city of Richland specifically asked the AG’s Office in 1989for an opinion on whether it could enter onto private property forthe purpose of spraying mosquitoes.

Richland said in their request that they ordinarily operate”mosquito control equipment only on the public roads,” but thatsome residents asked the city to spray near or around their homesbecause the treatment from the roads was ineffective because ofdistance.

“We perceive no impediment to the city acceding to the propertyowners’ request, if it should decide to do so,” the AG’s opinionstates. “The mosquito has a (nomadic) nature, and it constitutes anuisance and a threat to health to the community as a whole. Thecity’s efforts to abate this nuisance on private property (is) tothe benefit of the whole community. Thus, we do not perceive theowners’ request to be an invitation to improve private property forthe benefit of the owners.”

Mayor Bill Godbold refused comment on the opinion today. CityAttorney Joe Fernald was out of town.

Alderman-At-Large Les Bumgarner said the opinion mirrors what hebelieved the law should state in the first place.

“That would be my thoughts exactly,” he said. “I can understandthe (property) laws (as they are), but I don’t think it pertains topublic health. I think if we can look at it and determine it’s ahealth hazard, even without being told by the health department, weshould be able spray it.”

Without the attorney general’s decision to support them,however, the city has said that because the ditch runs throughprivate property they were not allowed to spray it.

“We are not allowed to go on private property to spray, so wehave to do the best we can from the street,” Ward 4 Alderman BobMassengill said earlier this week, while sympathizing with theplight of the residents.

Massengill was out of town and unavailable for comment on theopinion.

Residents appreciate the efforts of Massengill and StreetDepartment Superintendent Jimmy Griffin on spraying, said PattiPerkins, a Storm Avenue resident who lives adjacent to the ditch.Mosquito spraying in that neighborhood has increased lately, butunless the city can spray the ditch to get to the spawning groundsit doesn’t help much.

Ward 6 Alderman John “Buddy” Allen said the AG’s Office opinionmay make a difference.

“I support spraying for mosquitoes anywhere that it’s bad if thelaw will allow it,” he said.

Ward 1 Alderman Dorsey Cameron said mosquitoes pose a healthconcern and if the city is allowed to do so, he would also supportspraying.

“Liability is one of the key things we look at when going ontoprivate property, but usually if the attorney general gives us anopinion saying its OK, we usually follow it,” he said. “I feel therest of the board and the city will feel we should do this.”

Allen said the board should seek approval from the AG’s Officebefore spraying, however.

“I want to meet with someone from the Attorney’s General’sOffice to see what we can and cannot do,” he said. “In fact, Iintend to bring that up at the next meeting.”

Perkins said the city’s support of the opinion should solve agrowing health problem.

“I think it’s terrific,” she said. “I’m glad the city has theauthorization to go ahead and solve this health problem. I’m happythe mayor and aldermen are so concerned with the problem andthey’re planning to take action to solve it.”

There is more at stake than mere annoyance with the bugs,Perkins said, citing the danger of mosquito-borne diseases, such asWest Nile.

“We have elderly, young children and residents with compromisedimmune systems living in the immediate area,” she said.

Perkins has Lupus, one of several diseases that compromisesimmune systems.

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.

Cameron said the AG’s opinion also provides the city with muchmore leeway in other areas.

“We do have areas in the city throughout that need thatattention,” he said. “This will open up a lot of new area we canlook at and consider. I have some areas in my ward that we shouldconsider now.”

Bumgarner agreed.

“We have several ditches and a small pond that’s a concern to alot of people,” he said. “The people still need to maintain theditches on their property though, and we’ll help them as we can.The city doesn’t want to take ownership of the ditches.”