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Riverview one of Baltimore County's targets for rat eradication

Claudette Bennett bought her house on Kessler Court in Riverview 10 years ago.

It didn't take long for her to realize how much rats plagued her neighborhood.

"When I first moved here, I could look out my living room window at about 4:30 (p.m.) every day and my backyard would be moving," Bennett, 43, said, unsure why so many rats would come at that time.

The rats invaded her shed and chewed through anything they could find, including a Coleman plastic cooler and extension cords.

Bennett, who works in building maintenance, said she can't even estimate how much money she has spent buying rat poison, but knows she has spent at least $200 to replace chewed-through trash cans.

She said she hires an exterminator to come to the house every three months at $80 to $95 a visit.

"They want to come out every month and charge me 60 bucks and take care of everything," Bennett said of the exterminator. "I can't afford that, not every month."

Since litter attracts rats, Bennett gives up part of her Sunday, the one off day she has each week, to clean the neighborhood with Nathan, her husband of nearly three years..

The pair start near their house as early as 6 a.m. and don't stop until they reach Riverview Elementary School several blocks away on Kessler Road.

A new Baltimore County plan may mean the Bennetts no longer need to take matters into their own hands.

The Riverview community in Lansdowne and the Edmondson Heights area of Catonsville are among the areas targeted by Baltimore County for a rat eradication program.

The county plans to spend $150,000 a year for up to five years for extermination and education, said Lionel van Dommelen, the county's chief of code enforcement.

"Through a combination of this eradication program and educating through a variety of means of how to store trash, we should be able to get a good handle on the problem," van Dommelen said. "I don't know that you can ever completely eradicate them, but you can certainly knock them back."

Van Dommelen said inspectors will evaluate the neighborhoods that have had the most rat complaints.

In the neighborhoods selected for eradication, residents will receive a note that eradication will begin in four to six weeks, van Dommelen said.

The county program will start in Dundalk April 16.

No start date has been determined for the other areas, according to the Baltimore County Code Enforcement Bureau.

Extermination of the rats will include poisoning burrows and baiting storm drains, van Dommelen said.

The education portion of the program is designed to eliminate the rats' food source, which comes from improperly stored garbage and animal feces left on the ground, van Dommelen said.

Inspectors will go into schools to speak with children and perform community sweeps where they leave correction notices, citations and fines, van Dommelen said.

Van Dommelen said a fine for improperly storing trash is $150 per occurrence.

"Rats are going to thrive wherever there's a food source for them," he said. "There won't be a slap of the wrist for improperly storing trash thereby feeding the rats."

Each resident may choose to opt out of the program, but it could come with consequences, van Dommelen said.

"If they opt out and are found to have infestations of any kind, they are going to be responsible for eliminating them themselves," van Dommelen said.

Ron Whitehead, president of the Riverview Community Association, said rats have been a problem in the area since he moved there in 1965.

To combat the rat infestation, his community association has sold rat poison to its members at a reduced rate for years, Whitehead said.

The bulk of the problem comes from residents not cleaning up after their dogs, Whitehead said.

He said he hopes with a little training, the residents will step up and do their part.

"I'm glad it's happening," Whitehead said. "When it's over, I'll be even more glad."

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