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Hogan issues executive order to eradicate midge infestation

Midges are seen on the side of a boat in this photo from a state agriculture and Department of the Environment report.

Midges are seen on the side of a boat in this photo from a state agriculture and Department of the Environment report.

Concerns that an infestation of midges will spread into the northern Chesapeake Bay has Gov. Larry Hogan vowing to preemptively unleash the full fire and fury of the state’s agriculture department upon the pests.

Hogan Tuesday issued an executive order that will allow the Maryland Department of Agriculture to spend $330,000 earmarked to eradicate the tiny fly-like creatures sometimes referred to as boat fleas.

“We would have loved to have started spraying in April,” said Amelia Chassé, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Hogan announced a plan earlier this year to begin a treatment program around the Back River Wastewater Treatment plant, which is located in Baltimore County but operated by Baltimore City. The state asked Baltimore County to join as a partner in what was initially estimated to be a $1.2 million project.

The county declined, and Hogan announced money to spray hot spots.

“We’d certainly be pleased if the county would join us,” Chassé said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz compared the governor’s plan to “spraying a can of Raid.”

“The Governor’s “so-called” solution is like spraying a can of Raid in a mosquito infestation. It sounds good, but doesn’t solve the problem,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “We need more long-term solutions like Baltimore County is undertaking, such as our $220 million upgrade to the sewage treatment plant, $1.6 billion investment replacing aging pipes, and $24 million annually to rebuild eroding stream beds and other environmental upgrades. These are the worthwhile investments to make, not fooling people with a can of Raid.”

Kamenetz, a Democrat and presumed challenger to Hogan in 2018, has previously butted heads with the governor over midges.

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.

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

Boaters and businesses in the area have complained that the pests are a nuisance, swarming boats, residents and restaurants.

Hogan previously referred to the population as “a major infestation.” In his executive order, the governor said midges “threaten to spread into the northern Chesapeake Bay.”

Hogan issued his executive order on the same day that he attended the groundbreaking of a new project meant to help the city comply with an agreement with the federal government meant to reduce sewage overflows.

The state’s treatment plan was delayed first by budget debates in the General Assembly and then after an assistant attorney general assigned to the agriculture department raised concerns about the state’s legal authority to begin the program.

“… the Department’s authority here is limited to aircraft dissemination of pesticides to control ‘any plant infestation, plant infection, or animal or human disease,'” wrote Craig A. Neilsen in an Aug. 2 email. “Since midges do not qualify as mosquitoes or black flies and are not a plant infestation, plant infection and will contribute to any animal or human disease, I have serious concerns about the Department’s authority to spray and control midges.”

Chassé said the plan is to begin perhaps by the end of the month, depending on the temperature. Treatment would continue through September and October, she said.

The problem with the pests is directly related to sewage overflows from the treatment plant into the Back River. The midge population exploded in the area in 2008 and grew worse each successive year, according to a state report.

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.

A count of 500 per square foot is considered nuisance level.

Chassé said treatment is a short-term solution.

Long-term control of the midge population will hinge on controlling sewage overflows from the treatment plant. The Board of Public Works earlier this year state approved $9.1 million in state aid to the county and city for projects meant to alleviate the overflows. Those projects are expected to be completed as soon as 2018.

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