Running Brook residents, disturbed by what appears to be a sudden increase in the rat population along one street, agreed last night to join the Columbia Association in an effort to clean up the draining area that provides shelter for the rodents.
Wilde Lake Village Board Chairman Howard Feldmesser told about 40 residents that the rat infestation behind Whetstone Road residences is a "community problem" partly created by homeowners who for years have dumped grass clippings and other yard waste into a drainage swale and surrounding area.
"We can take care of the [drainage area] but it has to be done by the community," Mr. Feldmesser said. "We can't expect anyone to clean up 25 years' worth of stuff by himself.
"This is an open-space property. We could foist it all on CA, but I'm asking us as good neighbors to pitch in," he said.
The group set Sept. 10 as a cleanup day. The association will provide equipment and continue baiting rat burrows with poison and mowing the area in the meantime.
The association owns and maintains property along the drainage swale, which divides Whetstone Road residences from the edge of the future Fairway Hills Golf Course.
The association is constructing the course, and plans to build three holes in Running Brook.
Several residents questioned whether the apparent increase in the rat population along Whetstone Road may be associated with the nearby construction of the golf course.
"We've been here going on 24 years. Why is it we never had a rat problem until your golf course got started?" asked Virginia Scott, a Whetstone Road resident.
Charles Rhodehamel, association ecologist and assistant director of open space management, responded that habitation patterns of rodents are difficult to forecast, adding that they tend to migrate about 200 feet maximum. In an interview, he said he doubts that golf course construction has contributed to the rodent problem.
"Those disturbances are quite some distance away," Mr. Rhodehamel said.
The association has contracted with an exterminating service to treat the area and will expand its mowing patterns on open space property adjacent to the Whetstone Road homes.
The county Bureau of Environmental Health also is working with the association and Whetstone Road residents to eliminate shelter and food sources for rats and bait burrows with poison.
Health officials, who first received complaints from Whetstone Road residents a month ago, have inspected about 10 residential properties during three site visits.
"On some of the properties, there was clearly evidence of a rodent infestation," said Bert Nixon, director of the community environmental health program, in an interview.
Most signs of rat infestation were found along the drainage swale, Mr. Nixon said. He said it's difficult to determine whether golf course construction has caused rats to migrate toward the Whetstone Road residences, noting that the drainage swale has characteristics that make it a natural habitat for rodents.
The habitat has been enhanced at the back edge of some residential properties by wood piles, bird feeders and pet feces, he said.
Frank Skinner, the county environmental health director, said rodent complaints from Columbia and evidence of infestation have been more frequent over the past two years, with most problems occurring around residential areas and village shopping centers.
Mr. Rhodehamel said it is not unusual to have rodent problems in open space areas, especially around Columbia's lakes. The association has been able in the past to work with residents affected by infestations and mitigate the problems, Mr. Rhodehamel wrote in a letter to Whetstone Road residents.
"People are always shocked and concerned: 'I didn't know we had rats in Columbia.' They are here." Mr. Rhodehamel told the residents.