Washburn residents say mosquitos out of control

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Resident: 'The city won't do anything about it'

Washburn residents who live on North Old Wire Road are concerned about an ongoing mosquito swarm problem they say is caused by a neighbor who is allowing grass to overgrow, and debris and standing water to accumulate, creating a serious nuisance and public health risk that's affecting their quality of life, and say the city will not take appropriate action.

"We've been fighting the issue for four years," said Glenda Hollis, a 30-year resident of the city. "Just getting out of the car in the driveway going into the house, you get ate up with them. I even went to a [city council] meeting last year, the mosquitos are so bad. There are old car parts, lawnmower parts, trash and tall grass, and we can't get the city to get it cleaned up. They said it was a health department thing."

But after calling the Barry County Health Department, Hollis said she was referred back to the city.

Jan Cox, environmentalist at the Barry County Health Department, said the health department has no authority to take action, and the city is responsible.

"They'll have a city ordinance [for that]," Cox said. "We have an ordinance on food and waste water, so if it was septic system, we'd have authority to do something. Now, occasionally, we might send a letter to the party, but the best thing to do is find out if it's within city limits."

Hollis said there is about 50 feet between her house and the neighbor's property line, but the mosquitos are coming over.

"A city worker said mosquitos don't travel from their habitat but I know better than that. I googled it."

Hollis said she nor her husband can go outside, or her grandchildren when they come to visit, without getting bit, no matter what time it is.

"Even in the morning, middle of day, or at night, we can't, without getting eaten up with mosquitos," she said. "I've even put bug spray on and have sprayed the yard, but I can't even let my grandkids go out and play. My husband is disabled, and anytime he gets bit, he gets a bad infection, so he can't even go sit on the screened-in porch because he gets bit."

Hollis also said threats of the Zika virus, caused from the bite of an infected mosquito, concerns her.

"It scares me," she said. "The city's come out and told him to clean it up, but they just throw things from the front yard to the back. The city said they don't have an ordinance to control mosquitos, just tall grass."

According to Hollis, the neighbors aren't able to settle the dispute between themselves.

"He won't even talk to us," she said. "Or the neighbor across the road."

Cora Peterson lives across the street from the disheveled property.

"I'm a nurse, and we've been told that mosquitos can't cross the street," Peterson said. "That's not true, they can travel. We're noticing the issues with the mosquitos, and it's not a small issue."

Peterson said she has a swimming pool, but her kids can't enjoy it for long, because after just a few minutes outside, they are bit, too.

"And we sure can't eat outside," she said. "You can look at my little boy's legs, he is ate alive. We can't go to Glenda's because the mosquitos are so bad. They are so thick, she takes a big risk of being sick.

"It's tall grass, junk cars and standing water [causing the problem]. It's been an issue for a long time. The guy with city council had told him to clean it up, but...well, nobody wants to have a problem with their neighbor."

Peterson said the yard is an embarrassment to the community.

"He has old cars in his yard that will never run again," she said. "And it's right there on Highway 37. You can't help but notice it. I can't imagine how it makes people feel who come to our town -- that's the first thing they see, by the city limit sign."

Glenda's son, Travis Hollis, said he has tried to help resolve the issue.

"This property is producing a mosquito swarm from lack of code enforcement from the city," said Travis Hollis. "They refuse to have the occupants clean up the property, which includes stagnant water and tall weeds. Over the years, they have sent a deputy sheriff out to ask him to get his yard cleaned up, but it seems to get worse. I send my children up to visit with their grandparents to enjoy the back yard, but the mosquitos just swarm. It's not personal, but when it affects family members, then it does become personal."

Hollis said the city's mayor also told him there was nothing more the city could do.

"They have an ordinance about conditions that pose a public health risk, and mosquitos would fall into that, but they're not going to enforce it," Hollis said, which prompted him to contact the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services in Jefferson City for help, which may collect specimens from the swarm, he said.

"That's the only agency that's been responsible at this point," he said. "The Barry County Health Department said they had no authorization. It's up to the city to enforce their ordinances. It's basically neglect of their [city's] duties. They're looking at inputs and outputs, not at outcomes for their community when it comes to code enforcement."

Washburn Mayor John Tiedeman said the city has sent officers to the address in question on several occasions, who have issued warnings to cut the grass and clean up the yard, per the tall grass ordinance.

If no compliance, a citation can be issued requiring a court appearance, but according to Tiedeman, the individual has never been summoned to court, because he cuts the grass when asked.

"When we go out there and tell him to clean up, he does so," Tiedeman said. "Other than that, there's not a whole lot we can do. I do know he's made efforts and has got rid of some cars and did mow and weed eat the back of his yard. Granted, he has a lot of stuff sitting around, but nothing that would violate city codes. I told the neighbors they could go to the health department and see if they could do something about it, and they told them to talk to us.

"I've tried to do what we could, and we've sent officers and have even had a member of our council go out. But the grass gets back like it was, then we get on to him again, he cleans it up, and we just don't have the resources to stand over him all the time."

The owner of the property could not be reached as of press time.

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