Baltimore County won't help pay for midge spraying

Kamenetz to Hogan: Baltimore County won't pay for midge spraying

Baltimore County will not kick in money for a midge-eradication plan proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

The Republican governor publicly asked Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, on Oct. 5 to contribute $650,000 to spray pesticides to combat midges on Back River in eastern Baltimore County. The governor had previously sent the request to Kamenetz in writing and said the state would pay the same amount.

Two days later, the county's director of environmental protection and sustainability, Vincent J. Gardina, wrote that the county would not help pay for the program.

The state's proposal lacked a scientific justification for the plan and would treat only a fraction of the Back River, Gardina wrote. According to Gardina, spending $1.3 million as Hogan proposed would only be enough to treat between 48 and 96 acres.

"At best, such a proposal does not seem to offer a comprehensive solution, and does not constitute an effective investment of tax dollars," Gardina wrote.

Midges don't bite and aren't considered a health threat, but their swarms are a nuisance for boaters and others who use the river. The state Department of Natural Resources has been studying Back River's midge population since 2014.

The long-term solution to eradicate midges is to reduce the nutrients such as nitrogen that fuel growth of phytoplankton in the river and attract the tiny bugs, Gardina wrote. Continuing to improve the city's Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant is a key part of that effort, he wrote.

The state should "provide a long-term strategy for reducing the midge larvae population and not defer to a short-term ineffective solution as proposed by the Governor," Gardina wrote. "While we agree that midges are a nuisance, it is necessary to have scientific facts to support such an expenditure."

Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor's plan provides interim relief while working on a long-term solution. He noted the Back River sewage plant is being upgraded and will have top nutrient-reduction technology by 2018.

"It is very disappointing that Baltimore County doesn't really seem to be interested in joining the administration to address this public nuisance," Mayer said.

The state is planning a "midge summit" in Essex this month to discuss the issue.

Earlier this year, state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would have required the state to help marinas in Baltimore County pay for midge eradication.

On Thursday, Salling said he's frustrated — but not surprised — that Kamenetz is declining to join with Hogan to pay for the spraying.

"For some reason, he just doesn't want to cooperate with us. ... It shows me he doesn't care about the people, he doesn't care about the businesses," said Salling, a Republican who represents eastern Baltimore County.

The midge issue is by no means the first disagreement between Hogan and the Kamenetz administration. The two have tangled on issues including transportation projects, the planned redevelopment of a county government center into a shopping center and the county's pace of installing air conditioning in schools.

Kamenetz is considering a run against Hogan in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

pwood@baltsun.com

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