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June 20, 2013

Cape Ann looks to beat bugs

Threat of mosquitoes, diseases likely to be high this summer

With nearly every municipality on Cape Ann deciding not to enroll in a regional mosquito control program and the first day of summer tomorrow, local officials are looking for other ways to monitor and manage the flying bloodsuckers.

Last summer the number of West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) cases became a public health crisis in Massachusetts with two deaths — one in Georgetown, the other in Amesbury — attributed to the mosquito-borne diseases. All of Cape Ann’s communities — Gloucester, Rockport, Essex and Manchester — closed parks and outdoor spaces at dusk as municipal officials grasped at ways to protect people from infection. At one point, the state raised the threat level for EEE to critical in Essex after a horse in town came down with the disease.

This summer could be a high-risk season as well, according to state Department of Public Health Acting Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett.

In Gloucester, the city’s Board of Health recommended the city enroll in the Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District in March, but Mayor Carolyn Kirk rejected the request, according to the city’s chief administrative officer, James Duggan.

City Council’s Planning and Development subcommittee can still be a part of the ongoing conversation, but the city is looking toward methods of mosquito management and control that involve more community outreach, Duggan said.

“More comprehensive reviews and analyses of (mosquito) watch options are out there,” he said, adding that the city needs a more formal and reviewed plan before signing on with the district.

“We need to be able to look at all the options,” he said.

Since the cost to enroll in the district is not budgeted the money would have to come from a transfer and Kirk would have to sign off on it.

Despite the request getting swatted down, the city is not brushing off the severity of the issue.

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