Town and state officials frustrated with mosquito opt-out denials


Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2021 8:32:10 PM

Town and state officials are expressing confusion and disappointment with a lack of information regarding the state’s mosquito control opt-out application process, after nine Hampshire and Franklin county towns had their applications denied.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, expressed frustration with the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) in an email to local municipalities over a lack of information in the application process, which denied some municipalities based on regional data and did not fully explain why the towns’ applications were being denied.

“If the state was going to deny applications based on regional risk level it should have saved these towns the trouble of applying,” Comerford’s email reads. “If the submitted alternative plans were deemed insufficient, they should allow towns to learn what standards EEA was looking for, and then be given a chance to amend their plans.”

The EEA denied applications from Amherst and Pelham in Hampshire County and Sunderland, Shutesbury, Leverett, Orange, Erving, Wendell and New Salem in Franklin County. All are listed as “moderate” in the regional risk assessment category for mosquito-borne diseases.

Comerford and other area representatives sent a letter July 13 to EEA Secretary Kathleen Theoharides expressing concerns with the state’s denial of applications.

“We’ve had visibility into the painstaking work in each community relative to the decision to opt out as well as the work to build a viable alternative plan, particularly with consideration to competing priorities related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter reads. “We share the extreme frustration of our constituents.”

Each year, the state assesses the disease risk of mosquito populations. In areas where disease risk is high, aerial and ground spraying is conducted to kill adult mosquitoes that may be carrying eastern equine encephalitis or West Nile virus, according to a state fact sheet.

Towns are allowed to opt out of this program through an application process if they show they have an alternative mosquito control plan. Even if towns have a thorough plan, however, they can still be denied based on regional disease trends.

Theoharides said there will be no appeal process for towns this year, according to a letter she sent to in response to the representatives’ concerns.

“EEA expects to evaluate lessons learned from the 2021 opt-out process to amend the process for the next year,” Theoharides wrote. “While we anticipate the application will have an expanded scope and requirements, and that applications will be subject to significantly more stringent review, we also expect to increase resources and support for municipalities in developing plans.”

Sunderland Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz said the town’s application was denied because of the surrounding region’s risk level — Sunderland itself has the lowest possible risk level of eastern equine encephalitis and West Nile virus. He said the application process was not clear about what the state was seeking.

“The way I understood it is, we submitted a plan and our denial had nothing to do with how well we’re managing mosquitoes in town,” Kravitz said. “We didn’t get a lot of info on what a successful application or alternative management plan would look like.”

Kravitz said it is “disappointing” the town was rejected because of outside factors. He said Sunderland’s plan contained a variety of mosquito control measures.

“From our perspective, we thought we were going above and beyond,” Kravitz said. “Without having information on what a successful application looks like, it’s going to be tougher.”

Orange Select Board Chair Jane Peirce said her town wanted to opt out because of chemical concerns.

“We were not able to get good information about what would exactly happen if the spraying commenced,” Peirce said. “We have many farmers in the area, and organic farmers who do not want pesticides.”

Peirce said the application process was unclear and the denial did little to clarify the circumstances.

“There was no information ahead of time for us to make a determination,” Peirce said. “After the fact, we didn’t get good information about why we were denied and what we could expect to happen.”

Erving Select Board Chair Jacob Smith said his board has yet to meet to discuss the denial and next steps, but he feels similarly to officials from neighboring towns.

“I get the same feeling,” Smith said. “We got told it was denied but not a lot of substance. … We have very limited information from the state.”

Wendell Board of Health Chair Barbara Craddock said the town had three mosquitoes test positive for eastern equine encephalitis last year, which raised the rest of the region’s risk level. She echoed other towns’ complaints about the application process being “not user friendly.”

“We felt that we weren’t given good information,” Craddock said. “They sent us a template, but it was rather hard to interpret.”

Craddock said the state will require more strenuous data collection and prevention methods next year, but she is hopeful it provides more support to go along with it.

“(These are) not easy things for small towns to do,” Craddock said. “Hopefully they give us better guidance next year and some resources to accomplish these things.”

Kravitz said Sunderland wanted to opt out of aerial spraying because town officials don’t think it is an “effective method,” but they will continue to work with the state for the good of the residents.

“We’re happy to work with the state,” Kravitz said. “We certainly want to protect the health of everybody and do it in a responsible way that doesn’t create a burden on everyone else.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.
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