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Hogan offers to split costs on ‘massive’ midge infestation

Midges are seen on the side of a boat in this photo from a state agriculture and Department of the Environment report on what the governor called "a massive infestation" in the back river area of Essex.

Midges are seen on the side of a boat in this photo from a state agriculture and Department of the Environment report on what the governor called “a massive infestation” in the back river area of Essex.

ANNAPOLIS — It’s not one of the 10 plagues of Egypt, but a “massive infestation” of tiny flies is drawing complaints from businesses and residents of Eastern Baltimore County and has Gov. Larry Hogan ready to open the state checkbook.

Hogan on Wednesday said the state has received hundreds of complaints regarding swarms of midges — a fly-like creature that is sometimes mistaken for mosquitoes and referred to as ‘boat fleas” at some area marinas — that are breeding in the waters around the Back River Wastewater Treatment plant, which is operated by Baltimore City but treats waste from both jurisdictions.

“The county cannot continue to ignore the problem, which has gotten serious,” Hogan said during a meeting of the state Board of Public Works. “Unfortunately, years of pollution flowing out of the plant to the river from the plant has created the ideal breeding ground apparently for these midges.”

Hogan proposed splitting with Baltimore County the $1.2 million projected cost of using insecticides to reduce the population to the point where other natural predators can help control the population and improvements to the treatment plant can be completed.

“We haven’t yet heard a response from Baltimore County, but it is our sincere hope that the county will join us in addressing this terrible problem in Baltimore County,” Hogan said.

Ellen Kobler, the county’s deputy communications director, said the state only recently received the Sept. 28 letter from Department of Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder and Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton.

“We’re reviewing it,” Kobler said.

One potential issue could be the cost and who is responsible.

Bartenfelder and Belton say that the state is not liable for the costs because the species is non-biting and not a carrier of disease.

State officials who studied and reported on the infestation estimate there were 12,000 midges per square foot in some areas, according to a samples taken by the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability in 2010.

Those figures were included in 2014 report conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

A count of 500 per square foot is considered nuisance level, according to Hogan, who called it “a massive infestation.”

“There are clouds of these pests that coat the hulls of boats and houses and businesses and trees and buildings,” Hogan said. “They’re a nuisance to residents and businesses.”

The problem exploded in the area in 2008 and the problem grew worse each successive year, according to state report.

The insects typically breed in the warmer months between May and October when females lay as many as 5,000 eggs on the surface of the water. The total life cycle for the pests is about 15 days in warmer weather and a month during colder periods.

And while some midges can bite or carry disease, the variety common to the areas around the treatment plant are considered to be more likely to cause a “severe nuisance and economic problems,” according to the state report.

Hogan said the only way to permanently deal with the issue is to improve water quality in the river by reducing sewage overflows.

The Board of Public Works approved more than $9.1 million in state aid to the county and city for projects meant to alleviate the overflows. But those projects won’t be complete until 2018.


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