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Somerville mayor declares war on rats

Posted by Brock Parker  November 15, 2013 03:03 PM

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After an increase in complaints about rats in the city and a few personal encounters with the pests, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone announced Friday what he's calling aggressive new rodent control initiatives.

“This is war on the rats,” Curtatone said. “We’re going to get this done.”

The city is preparing a new program to offer free rodent control for homeowners and aims to launch a uniform residential trash barrel program to help keep rats from eating out of trash cans.

Somerville is also in talks with Arizona-based biotechnology company, SenesTech, Inc, for a limited test of rodent fertility management to reduce rodent populations, according to a press release from Curtatone’s office Friday.

Curtatone said in a telephone interview that rats are a critical public health issue, and he has encountered the rodents after dining in Union Square and on the front walk of his mother’s house in the city, possibly originating from a problem spot nearby.

Skye Stewart, a senior analyst for Somerville’s Somerstat office, said the city gets about 600 calls a year about rats, with higher volumes of calls in the summer. While the reports come in from around the city, Stewart said some of the most problematic areas have been on lower Broadway near Sullivan Square and in in East Somerville into Winter Hill and Gilman Square.

The city has seen an increasing number of rat complaints since 2009, and experienced a big spike in the summer of 2012 after what had been a mild winter, said Stewart.

Daniel Hadley, the director of Somerstat, said that though a number of factors tend to contribute to rat complaints, there seems to be a strong correlation with climate issues, such as the temperature and snowfall and the problem has been throughout the region.
“I think it’s really tough to underestimate just how much force the weather is on driving these calls,” Hadley said.

To address the problem, the city is planning to launch a new residential rodent control program in early 2014 that will offer up to 2,000 homeowners per year a free, one-time rodent control service that will include baiting, dusting and trapping. City inspectors will survey a property for evidence of rodents, and in exchange for a free abatement treatment of their choice residents must agree to take rodent prevention actions, such as removing pet food bowls from outside.

The city will issue a request for proposals by the end of the year to find a company to provide the rodent control services. Denise Taylor, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said that because the city is soon expecting bids on the program, she could not discuss the city’s estimates on its cost.

To remove a food source for rats, the city will also move to a uniform residential trash barrel program being developed to launch in the spring. The plan, which must still be discussed and finalized with the Board of Aldermen, would provide a free trash bin with an attached lid to residents who live in smaller buildings and already receive trash pickup from the city, said Taylor.

A code enforcement officer hired by the city in October has also begun an inventory of dumpsters in the city and all dumpsters will be licensed and regularly inspected to ensure they do not provide food sources for rodents, according to Curtatone’s office.

The mayor’s office said the city has also asked SenesTech, Inc, to prepare a proposal for the city to use limited testing of rodent fertility management that reduces but doesn’t eliminate rodent populations by suppressing their reproductive capabilities. The technique has been used by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to Curtatone’s office.

Somerville formed and interdepartmental Rodent Action Team in September, and Curtatone said the approaches announced Friday to addressing rodent complaints come at the culmination of months and up to a year’s worth of work analyzing the problem and looking at what other municipalities do. He said reports of rats by the public have helped the city track and plan how to attack the problem.

“You can’t trap your way out of the problem, just as you can’t arrest your way out of crime,” he said.

--Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com

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