A beehive over the front door of a house bedevils a cul-de-sac in the Islands neighborhood, a few hundred feet away from an elementary school.
A girl’s attempts to enjoy slightly cooler evening temperatures, both near her home by Freestone Park and at her grandfather’s on the south side of town, are foiled by mosquitoes.
Gilbert residents turned to town officials for assistance in both these cases last week, only to be referred to Maricopa County’s Vector Control division.
Gilbert, unlike many other Valley cities, does not have any laws on the books covering insect infestations, and anything that poses a public safety hazard is referred to the county health department.
So when several neighbors of the bee-infested house, including a next-door neighbor who had been stung, appealed to the Town Council for help at a Sept. 9 meeting, the elected officials couldn’t offer much beyond sympathy, though the topic will be on the agenda for the Sept. 30 meeting.
Don Rodier lives across the street from that house, and spoke at the meeting. He said trying to talk to homeowner Vi Lam didn’t accomplish anything, and personnel from Gilbert’s police, fire and code compliance departments all said they couldn’t take any action without the homeowner’s permission.
“Our hands were getting tied, so that’s when we stepped up to the Town Council,” Rodier said. “And we got the same sort of response, that it’s up to the homeowner.”
It took media reports about the beehive to get the right people involved, said Johnny Dilone, spokesman for Maricopa County Environmental Services.
“Nobody ever called us about the situation,” he said.
Once the department knew of the issue, it swung into action. On Tuesday, Dilone said, “We left them that door hanger alerting the owner there was a hazard. We did not hear from the house’s occupant, so (Wednesday) we got a search warrant which enabled the county to go onto the property, just to go to the front door.”
But by the time they got there, all they found were bee carcasses littering the front step. The property owner hired an exterminator himself and the hive had been removed that morning.
“They didn’t contact us at all, but they did get an exterminator and took care of the problem, so we closed that complaint,” Dilone said. If the hive had still been an issue, the county would have removed it and placed a lien on Lam’s house for the expense, generally a couple of hundred dollars, he said.
Lam said on Thursday that he’d been too busy to act on the bee infestation, a recurring problem at the house, as quickly as his neighbors wanted.
“I feel bad, because they say that I wasn’t responding and I did,” he said. Wednesday was the second time within a week the exterminators had come to his house, he said, producing receipts dated Sept. 11 and Sept. 17.
The situation has clearly created some tension on his block. “They say if somebody gets stung they can sue me, but how do they know if it’s a bee from here?” he asked.
Rodier said he knows of other nearby houses that have hosted hives, including one on another street which produced 60 pounds of honey. He said that despite being situated largely on the shores of a man-made lake, mosquitoes aren’t much of an issue for the Islands.
But they are making their presence known elsewhere in the community, and the county is fogging accordingly.
Carol Emmett was spurred by the pests to e-mail the Town Council last week. She said the mosquitoes, which carry the added threat of West Nile Virus, had stung her daughter near their home, and then a family barbecue was scrubbed because of the insects.
She was particularly frustrated because she’d been told the town had halted its own mosquito fogging program. “This is happening in spite of our taking steps including wearing insect repellant,” she wrote. “We are doing our part, will you please do yours?”
She learned through replies from Mayor Steve Berman and Town Manager George Pettit that Maricopa County Vector Control has taken over mosquito fogging in Gilbert, assuming the role it already has in the rest of the East Valley.
Emmett said she was satisfied by the town officials’ response to her concerns and how quickly she got the feedback, and thinks the county’s Vector Control services could be given a higher profile on town Web sites.
She’d also like to see the fogging happen more regularly, “not just when there’s a complaint but as a preventative measure,” she said. “Of course, then you wonder whether we’re killing ourselves by doing that, who knows what kinds of chemicals they use.”
Kirk Smith, a supervisor with Maricopa County Vector Control, said the county has been using the same chemical, a synthetic pyrethroid, for years and it has proven to be safe over time.
Fogging is not done on a set schedule but in response to what officials find in 500 mosquito traps placed throughout the county, Smith said. If any West Nile-infected mosquitoes or a high volume of uninfected ones are found, the surrounding area is treated. This data is also used to investigate citizen complaints.
Two areas of Gilbert will be fogged tonight as part of what has been a busy summer, Smith said. “In the past two weeks we’ve had 2,500 complaints, I’d call that quite a few,” he said. “Let’s face it, we’ve had one of the wettest monsoons on record.”