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Editorial: Insect Control District's mistake, or a nuisance suit by a relentless opponent?

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Posted on February 28, 2019 |
By Angelo Lynn



In a letter in today’s Addison Independent, Salisbury resident Chris Fastie, writes of legal expenses the Brandon-Salisbury-Leicester-Goshen-Pittsford (BSLG) Insect Control District is passing on to taxpayers. He notes the legal expenses are because a group called the Toxics Action Center (based in Boston) filed a lawsuit against the BSLG claiming it did not alert the state of the consequences of the chemicals it uses to control mosquitoes.

He makes this allegation despite the fact that the state recently renewed the BSLG district’s permit to spray this coming season.

Fastie also alleges the spraying might be detrimental to a few species of endangered bats, and that the district’s practices should have identified such a potential hazard. The BSLG denies any deception or wrongdoing.

Mind you, Fastie does not cite any studies that have connected the decline of the bat population to the district’s spraying. Rather, he cites the fear of an unknown. He also notes that the federal Environmental Protection Program is being sued for allowing the use of one of the chemicals, which is the same chemical he cites as detrimental to the bats. He uses scare tactics to suggest the EPA and the BSLG could be found guilty of killing an endangered species, which would be a huge fine the BSLG would have to pay — an outcome that is not credible.

We can certainly agree the EPA (particularly under the current administration) doesn’t always hold to the best scientific evidence of what should or should not be tolerated; and new information should be considered with the renewal of permits. But let’s be clear as to the thrust of the lawsuit: It cites insufficient paperwork. It does not attack the core mission of the BSLG.

What Fastie also does not say is that he has been a vocal opponent of the district’s adulticide program, and that he is one of a handful of people (allegedly five of them) who reached out to the Toxics Action Center to file suit against the BSLG.  The TAC did not just happen upon this on its own.

The irony of Fastie’s letter, then, is that he is encouraging district towns (Salisbury was the only one of five to join his crusade) to rebel against the legal expenses the BSLG faces, even as he helped instigate that legal action. Fastie is also the author of the Moosalamoo Woods and Water website, which he has foisted upon the Salisbury community as a wealth of information on the BSLG’s sins and omissions (my description, but his intent if you wish to read through his one-sided comments.)

Residents should understand the website’s bias; know that everything they read on the web is not true; and henceforth be careful stewards of their information and be certain to get (as radio personality Paul Harvey used to say) the other side of the story — which Fastie rarely presents and when he does he peppers with derogatory comments.

What is particularly concerning about Fastie’s action is that rather than attempt to help resolve what is allegedly a paperwork issue, he is using the issue to try to shut down a practice he personally opposes — even though thousands of other residents have long approved of the BSLG’s spraying program and benefit from it. Such lawsuits are referred to as nuisance suits for a reason — they cause financial harm to a party on a technicality in the hopes that party will be forced (in this case) to shut down its overall operations, or at least the spraying done by truck.

Let’s also correct two other points. In terms of legal expenses, Goshen resident Dr. Ben Lawton, who chairs the BSLG board, recently told us the district budgeted $20,000 in legal expenses in 2018-19, and is budgeting $25,000 in the upcoming year. He says the $5,000 increase is primarily because of the TAC legal action, noting that the TAC is able to drag on the lawsuit and ring up legal bills for the BSLG without worrying about their own expenses because the legal work is pro bono. Total expenses to operate the district amount to $37,000 more than the prior year, Lawton said, but the other $32,000 were for operating expenses.

Even so, because the BSLG serves five towns (Pittsford recently joined the district), that $5,000 increase in legal costs would be split five ways — or, roughly, $1,000 more per town compared to the prior year. Considering the benefit each town receives (either having the program or potentially not having it), the extra legal expense seems justified. Furthermore, Fastie alleges that no consequence will come if Salisbury residents reject a separate Town Meeting article asking for the $5,500 in legal funding for the BSLG. Lawton says that is not necessarily true. The BSLG board is to meet to determine what action the district might take if a town does not fully fulfill its financial obligation.

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But, honestly, here’s the issue that’s Fastie overlooks in his letter. While he cites a potentialdanger to a few species of bats, Fastie does not acknowledge the very real threat to humans that an unchecked mosquito population presents; that is, the spread of the West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE). Several cases of each disease have been recorded locally in recent years, including the death of two area residents in 2012. It was reported at the time that about one-third of the people infected with severe EEE die of the disease.

Lawton knows that reality all too well. His wife suffered a mosquito bite back in the late 1980s that within hours sent her to the hospital fighting for her life. She would spend several days in critical care, then the next several months recovering and relearning how to walk and regain her mobility.

It was that incident that prompted Lawton, a longtime Brandon dentist, to vow he wouldn’t let that nightmare happen to others in the area, so he’s been helping the BSLG in its ongoing effort to keep the district’s mosquito population in check.

Personally, as a resident of Leicester since 1992, I (like many others) recall several summers in which mosquitos swarmed in hordes around anyone who had to venture outside. Thankfully, the BSLG’s work has generally made such instances a thing of the past. To question, as Fastie does in his website, that BSLG’s mosquito-control programs have no proven benefit or effect (because no scientific studies have been done to document it) is to deny common sense and personal experience.

Hopefully, the residents of Salisbury know better and will trust their own memories, and not let the writings of a known opponent sway their better judgment. Rather, we would hope they understand the value of BSLG’s work, understand where the thrust of the lawsuit against the BSLG is coming from, and vote appropriately.

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