Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 52° Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Mosquito district breeds critics

Creating a new mosquito control district could help Spokane County keep West Nile virus at bay, but it might also trigger renewed debate over higher taxes, the environment and private property rights.

The agency envisioned by supporters for controlling mosquitoes would kill larvae with low-impact pesticides. But it also would have the authority to quickly become a larger and more expensive operation using both water-delivered larvicides and truck- or plane-dispersed sprays.

Voters would have to approve a Spokane County mosquito control district as well as its first year’s funding, but after that the district’s board would determine its needs and how much money to levy.

County Commissioners will hold a hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday to consider putting the formation of a mosquito control district to a public vote. Such a district’s main purpose would be preventing the spread of West Nile virus.

The virus has not yet been diagnosed in humans in Washington state, but cases were reported last year in Idaho and eastern Oregon. The disease usually manifests no symptoms but can cause headaches, fever, nausea, vision loss, convulsions, paralysis and death.

“We haven’t had West Nile virus, so it’s hard for people to understand the epidemic way it hits,” said Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Kim Thorburn.

Thorburn, who is pushing the commissioners to put creation of a mosquito control district on an upcoming ballot, suffered in 2003 from a rare nerve disorder that she attributes to being bitten by a West Nile virus-infected mosquito in Ohio.

Two blood tests for the virus gave conflicting results.

Thorburn determined it would cost about $400,000 to start up a mosquito control district in Spokane County next year. That would equate to a first-year levy of about 2 to 3 cents per $1,000 valuation, or $3 to $4.50 on a $150,000 home.

“My recommendation is a low-assessment to develop a district that only has the capacity to do larviciding,” Thorburn said.

The funding would pay for a director and assistant, a truck, gas, equipment, larvicide and seasonal help.

Larvicides used to control mosquito populations are applied to the water where mosquitoes lay their eggs and kill only mosquito larvae, not other insects, she said.

Adulticides must be sprayed and have more potential for negative environmental effects.

But after the first year, the district’s board would determine what it needs to effectively operate, said Spokane County attorney Jim Emacio.

And there lies the rub.

The board could decide in subsequent years that it needs more money to pursue adult mosquito spraying.

“That’s something we need to get a handle on because we don’t want airplanes fogging,” Thorburn said. She suggested that the county commissioners make sure a health district representative sits on the board to keep the discussion based in science rather than fear.

Since 2003, 362 people have died from West Nile virus in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is no human vaccine or cure.

Not all county parcels would ultimately be levied equally. Those parcels in areas the mosquito control district board determined would derive more benefit from the district would have to pay more.

Only certain kinds of mosquitoes carry West Nile Virus. The Culex tarsalis is of key concern in this area, said Thorburn.

That species was found in just some of the traps set last year by the Spokane Regional Health District. While traps in south Spokane, southwest Spokane County and north Spokane turned up Culex mosquitoes, those set in the far north of the county and in the Spokane Valley did not.

Another species of mosquito, a small one that Thorburn calls the “house” mosquito, is found all over the county, she said.

It would take a simple majority of Spokane County voters to create a mosquito control district and 60 percent to levy its first-year funding. Three of the 16 board members would be appointed by the county commissioners. Spokane County cities would each appoint one to form the rest of the board.

According to state law, the board would have the authority to determine where mosquito problems exist and force property owners to abate them. The district also would have the ability to access any piece of property to determine if there is a problem and to control the mosquitoes if a property owner doesn’t comply.

The property owner would then be charged for the service.

Dissolving the district would take a two-thirds majority of electors.

Commissioner Phil Harris called state lawmakers’ desire to control mosquito-borne diseases “honorable,” but said the methodology “stinks.”

“That you can come on my private property …” he said, is a bad idea.

Harris also pointed out that mosquitoes can be controlled with methods other than insecticides, such as making sure standing water is drained or aerated.

He faulted swales as a major new source of mosquitoes.

“I told people that, no pun intended, these swales are going to come back to bite you.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.