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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rats!



City’s rat solution turns into a problem

Resident complains about poison, traps near playground

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Rat poison placed near a playground at Fort Nathan Hale has been removed following a citizen’s complaint to the parks department, but two additional bait boxes at the park, and poison at Long Wharf and the Green remain, city officials said Monday.
“I have a 14-year-old daughter who I was thinking of bringing to that very playground. But now that I see this rat poison, I wouldn’t even think of bringing her there,” said the New Haven resident whose e-mails to City Hall spurred the change.
The father complained in an e-mail last week to Mayor John DeStefano Jr. about the proximity of rat poison to a playground and parking lot at Fort Nathan Hale.
“What parent is expecting something like that to be 10 feet from where they park their car, as they go to the beach. … This must be addressed immediately,” the e-mail said.
The man, who asked that his name not be printed, received an e-mail response from Robert Levine, city director of Parks, Recreation and Trees, that said, “All containers are child-proof and regularly inspected by the vendor.”
“We have had a very large problem with this issue (rats) at our shoreline parks in the past years, and the program ... has been very successful in reducing the problem,” he said.
However, he told the citizen, “The container has been removed,” and the site would be monitored and, if needed, new bait traps would be placed in a less accessible location.
But when the man returned to the park, he claimed he found a trap in a new location, this time closer to the playground.
According to Levine, the one specific bait was removed, not moved.
“We removed the one this gentleman was complaining about,” Levine said.
But with three baits initially placed at the park, two remain, he confirmed.
The city has no plans to remove additional bait boxes, he said.
Six or seven years ago it was the rats themselves that triggered the complaints, said Levine.
“When we’re baiting and things are controlled, we don’t get complaints about them. Before we were baiting, we were getting complaints,” he said.
The Green was a particular cause for concern.
“Part of that was a matter of cleanliness in the general area, not just the Green, but other establishments in the downtown area,” Levine said.
The city fought back, hiring an exterminator to install boxes filled with blood-thinning rat poison at the Green, Fort Hale and Long Wharf. The amount the city spends each year on rodent control was not available.
“You hear the old stories of rats along the seashore and boat yards. It’s where they live. It’s their habitat; that’s not going to change. We need to somehow control it so it doesn’t become something negative for people who are using the areas,” said Levine. Levine said the city schedules regular emptying and cleaning of trash bins; the father claimed more must be done to curb the rats.
“There are rats there because they don’t take care of those parks,” the resident said. They mow the lawns and trim the branches, but you see soda bottles, used diapers…chicken bones, fish bait…that’s what attracts these rats,” he said.
Seniors at Nathan Hale Tuesday said they were aware of rat poison at the park, although they had never spotted a rat.
Three men who said they visit the park almost daily said they “seldom” see children at the playground, which was only recently installed. However, they did see exterminators placing rat bait near a patio that has since been paved over. The poison did not disturb them, they said.
However, this is not the first time the city’s use of rat poison has spurred citizen concern. In 2005, Suzanne Fields wrote to the Register that she had seen a “squirrel breathing heavily and dying a few feet away from the back of a church where on the ground was a shoe box-sized container of rat poison.”
The city and its then-exterminator, Orkin, defended use of the poison, claiming the squirrel appeared to be suffering from extreme heat, rather than poison ingestion, which would have caused it to bleed from the ear, nose and mouth.
“They aren’t steel safes, they’re bait boxes, but they’re very effective. They’re designed by the manufacturer not to allow pets and wildlife (to access the bait box),” said Michael Lipsett, owner of the city’s current exterminator, Connecticut Pest of West Haven. “I’m a bug guy not a scientist, but I’m told it’s not as palatable to most wildlife and domestic pets.”
“Just about everybody uses the bait boxes today. … It’s a fact of life. You have to deal with these things,” he said, claiming most restaurants and businesses use similar poison.
The poison is an anti-coagulant, which fatally thins a rat’s blood, according to Lipsett.
“It’s not stomach poison that kills anything right away,” he said.
Levine said poisoned rats die in their dens, and are not found dead around the parks.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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