ROCKINGHAM — The topic of spraying pesticides to alleviate the county’s mosquito problem created a buzz at the County Commission meeting Tuesday.
Commissioners debated allotting the county’s $55,112 share of the state’s $4 million to address an increase in mosquitoes following Hurricane Florence, which left behind stagnant water where the insects breed. The figure was calculated based on a formula taking into account the mosquito population in Richmond County, which is about twice the normal rate at 50 landings (on a person) per minute, according to Holly Haire, director of Environment and General Services.
Health Director Tommy Jarrell explained that the county had three options for using the money:
- Send two spray trucks — one of which hasn’t been used in 10 years and another that would have to be purchased — to travel at a maximum of 5 mph to every road in the county.
- Spray chemicals from a plane that would get the job done quickly but at high cost.
- Or hire a contractor.
Jarrell recommended the last option.
Commissioner Don Bryant, who described himself as an environmentalist and who has been a member of the Richmond County Beekeepers for more than 10 years, expressed concern for the county’s bee population — which could be devastated by extensive spraying of pesticides — and questioned whether spraying was worth it.
“You can’t just go out and start spraying,” Bryant said before the vote on the proposal.
Jarrell responded that his department had been working with Paige Burns, interim director of the Richmond County Extension, to communicate with beekeepers and organic farmers about when the spraying would occur so they could take steps to prevent damage. But Bryant was skeptical.
“I think you’re going to wipe out a lot of bees,” he said.
A long pause followed in the room.
Other commissioners asked for clarification on the effects of the pesticides on bees.
County Manager Bryan Land recommended that the board approve the money and then communicate with beekeepers and farmers before beginning the spraying.
Land said the county administration was receiving 18 to 20 calls a day about the mosquito problem.
Bryant was the lone holdout on the eventual 5-1 vote.
After the meeting, Bryant claimed there was “no way they can control” whether the pesticides would harm bees because the insects can travel three to five miles from their hives.
He said beekeepers could lock the bees in their hives at night, but they couldn’t an’t stay locked up like that for long, and it was unclear how long the pesticides would stay in the air.
“They need to spray at night; that would be the least of evils, I’m guessing,” Bryant said, stressing how important bees were to the food supply. “I think the governor jumped too fast with that $4 million …
“A good storm will blow (the mosquitoes) out of here.”
Jarrell said the county did not yet have the three bidders needed to award the contract.
The county also must reach agreements with each municipality before spraying within city limits, though spraying could begin in unincorporated areas immediately and would be completed in five days.
The city agreements are being written, and it will be at least a week before spraying can begin, Jarrell said.
The price for spraying is $70 per mile of road sprayed, which Jarrell said would allow for only 65 percent of roads to be sprayed if the county cannot negotiate a lower price.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]