SALISBURY — Town voters opted to not fund the local mosquito control district for this year. Meanwhile the Vermont Endangered Species Committee is recommending the state require the district to get a special permit for spraying pesticides that may cause harm to endangered bats.
Article 5, asking if voters would appropriate $25,411 to the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen Insect Control District (BLSG), failed at the Town Meeting Day polls with 92 voting “yes” and 132 voting “no.”
It’s not entirely clear what this means for the town and its relationship with the district, which also provides mosquito control services for Proctor and Pittsford.
Select Board Chairman Paul Vaczy, who is one of the town’s representatives to the BLSG Board of Directors, said he’s working on getting a copy of the organization’s bylaws to be reviewed by the town attorney. He hopes to know more by next week.
Among the BLSG’s members, Salisbury is the only town that puts the district’s funding as a question to voters outside its general fund budget. The practice is a relatively new one, with the vote being close last year.
“When I got notification later in the night, after everything had been tallied, I was actually quite surprised at such a large difference,” said Vaczy. “A difference in opinion has been occurring over the last three years here in Salisbury, and it involves a fair amount of folks on both sides. The conversation is definitely not over.”
He said the district’s use of adulticide chemicals to kill mosquitoes seems to be the issues some people have.
The BLSG is one of the state’s two insect control districts, the other being the Lemon Fair Insect Control District which serves Bridport, Cornwall, and Weybridge. Both are next to one another, both get $70,000 annually from the state for larvicide. The BLSG pays for its own adulticide chemicals with funds from the towns it serves.
Mason Overstreet, staff attorney and assistant professor of law at the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Vermont Law School, said that in 2019, a loose, informal coalition of environmental groups presented a report done by Arrowwood Environmental to the Vermont Endangered Species Committee showing that there is a high likelihood that five endangered bat species are being impacted by the BLSG’s spraying of adulticide, and thus, the state endangered species act is being violated.
According to Overstreet, the committee deliberated for a time, spoke to as many experts as it could, and on Tuesday, sent a memo to the Agency of Natural Resources recommending that the BLSG be required to apply for an “incidental take permit.”
“It’s not going to shut the insect control district down from spraying, it’s merely a starting point to have a conversation on how we can mitigate some of these harmful impacts to these bats,” Overstreet said.
He said the coalition Vermont Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic has been working with includes the Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, Biodiversity Research Institute, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Community Action Works (Formerly the Toxics Action Center), Colrain Center for Conservation and Wildlife, Moosalamoo Woods and Waters.
Overstreet said this is not related to a legal issue Toxics Action Center had with the state and the BLSG in 2018 (Which settled in March 2019) over what information was being supplied by the BLSG to the state in its pesticide spraying permit.
The Department of Fish & Wildlife is opposed to the Endangered Species Committee recommendation, said Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter.
“The basis is, it really comes down to a legal question rather than a biological question, and the legal question is, can you require a takings permit, or should you require a takings permit, when there is not direct evidence of the likelihood of a take?” he said.
He said that “take” is a broad term that in this context means to kill or significantly reduce the lifespan of the animal in question. The permits often come up with windmill projects.
“In the case of wind turbines, we know that wind turbines kill birds and bats, and so we have required takings permits for some of those projects, which have resulted in them changing some practices at some of those sites, curtailing their operation at certain times of the year,” he said.
He said there is certainly the potential for pesticide spraying to impact bats.
“The question is, should we require takings permits in cases where there is potential or cases such as wind turbines when we know there is the likelihood of a take,” he said.
He said the decision to require a permit or not would be discussed between him and ANR Secretary Julie Moore. There’s no deadline for that decision to be made, he said, but they would like to make prior to the mosquito spraying season.
On Wednesday, BLSG Chairman Mike Blaisdell said he would attempt to respond to an email with questions from the Herald, but had not done so as of press time.