Hogan pushes Kamenetz on money for midges

Midges have become the latest subject of political jockeying between Larry Hogan and Kevin Kamenetz.

Midges — those tiny swarming insects that drive people indoors — have become the latest subject of political jockeying between Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

On Wednesday, the Republican governor called on Kamenetz, a Democrat, to come up with $650,000 for a spraying program to combat the persistent midge nuisance on the Back River in the eastern part of the county.

Hogan, speaking during a meeting of the Board of Public Works, said his administration offered last week to pay half the cost of spraying the gnat-like insects this year and next if the county matches that sum.

He said the state has yet to receive a response from the county, and at one point urged state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, a Baltimore County Republican who attended the meeting, to push Kamenetz to act.

Salling, who represents the eastern county, sponsored legislation this year to require the state to pay for midge control at local marinas. It failed, but Hogan took up the cause of midge relief anyway.

Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor was not attempting to show up Kamenetz, who is considered a potential rival in the 2018 gubernatorial election. She said the administration recognizes that Kamenetz hadn't had much time to respond to the Sept. 28 letter.

"No implication of foot-dragging was intended," she said.

But Salling said Hogan's nudge was justified.

"The money is there," he said. "Let's hope our county executive steps up."

A spokeswoman for Kamenetz said a decision will come "as soon as possible."

"We just received the letter a couple days ago, and we're reviewing it," spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

Hogan and Kamenetz have clashed on matters much larger than midges, including transportation projects and air conditioning in schools.

Hogan raised the midge matter as the board voted to approve about $9 million in loans to Baltimore and Baltimore County for improvements intended to reduce pollution from the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Sewage overflows from the plant are believed to contribute to the conditions that make the Back River an ideal breeding ground for midges.

The area is a Hogan stronghold.

Midges don't bite people, but they can make life miserable by swarming and flying into ears, noses and other places where they aren't welcome. They are regarded as more of a nuisance than a health threat, but have drawn complaints from residents, marinas and restaurants in the Back River area.

The spraying program is intended as more of a short-term solution to the midge menace. If the county comes up with its half, there would be two sprayings at a cost of $105,000 this year and a full series of sprayings costing $1.2 million next year.

Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder, whom Kamenetz defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary for county executive, joined Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton in signing the state's letter to Kamenetz.

They told Kamenetz that spraying for midges is outside the normal scope of the Department of Agriculture because the insects don't bite or carry diseases. But they noted the state is making its 50 percent offer after hearing complaints from constituents.

Salling said midges pose a health risk for people with asthma. He said the infestation has become worse in recent years and is spreading up the bay toward Harford County.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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