Simmering resentment over spray charges comes to boil
BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
The Town of Pelham’s effort to look forward on gypsy moths was thwarted somewhat by its past failings on the matter, at least in the view of some residents at a public information meeting last Wednesday. The gathering was held at the community centre in order to handle an expected larger-than-usual crowd—expectations met—with Mayor Marvin Junkin opening by explaining the Town simply didn’t have enough money left by the previous council, in 2018, to properly deal with the foliage-consuming critters this year. That Junkin was making this statement in a room named after a member of the former council was not lost on some in attendance.
“We realize there are a lot of people here who weren’t happy,” Junkin said of the Town devoting just $25,000 in public funds to the issue in 2019, which included a patchwork charging of some residents in different aerial spray zones. “We were under financial constraints like this Town has never known. We did not have money to do this,” he said, while explaining the Town had still been faced with a “biological deadline” from the Ministry of the Environment to decide on a spray program, one that was ultimately undertaken by contractor Trees Unlimited.
It’s anticipated that a similar spray program next year would cost roughly $100,000.
“We did not have $100,000 [this year],” he said. “We cut $100,0000 off rural ditching….”
Attempting to move ahead however, Junkin said the budget is prepared to deal with the matter properly in 2020.
“Now we’ve got some leeway,” the Mayor said. “We are not going to go back [and refund fees paid by some residents]. If that pisses everyone off I’m sorry, but we made the decision and we’re gonna stick to it. So if we are going to get moving ahead—one, two, three, four, five, six— tell us what you like.”
The numbers Junkin counted off referred to six potential proposals the Town presented at the meeting, printed on poster boards lining the left side of the room, which ran the gamut from spraying just municipal properties, to spraying all properties with the cost spread throughout the tax base, to spraying only properties with moderate to severe infestation.
Still, most residents came to gripe about the shortcomings of 2019, with a queue to speak at the microphone reminiscent of a scene from the classic comedy Airplane!, in which passengers, including a nun, line up in the aisle to slap a fellow passenger who is being disruptive—though no one brought a tire iron to the Accursi Room.
Several residents pointed to perceived inconsistencies with this past year’s billing, which saw owners of certain properties billed for aerial spraying while some neighbours remained untouched.
“The people behind me didn’t get charged, I got charged,” said Pancake Lane resident Valerie, who lives close to Hillcrest Park, a longtime hotspot for gypsy moths. “How would I get a bill, and you’re closer to the park, and you don’t get a bill?”
Concord Street resident Donna Moody didn’t seem to have time for the six proposals.
“Just give us the good ones,” she told staff and councilors. “If we’re going to move forward, let’s move forward honestly. Let’s read Frank [Feeley]’s white paper, which was really good. We’re really not concerned that it’s going to make the staff’s life easier in the upcoming year. I’m looking to make sure all the people in this room’s life are easier so they don’t have to pay at $260 bill.”
Feeley, who lives directly adjacent to Hillcrest Park and has been dealing with the cyclical moth scourge and Town bureaucracy for more than three decades, prepared a 20-page report documenting the problem dating back to 1990, and spoke at the meeting —which he noted was the first such public one on the matter in his 40-plus years in Pelham.
“The town overcharged 294 residents by $48,000,” Feeley said. “We should have been charged $350 per acre like other municipalities, instead of $625.”
The $625 figure was quoted by Director of Public Works Jason Marr as the price of spraying in the “urban zone” of Fonthill, with costs lower in rural areas. Junkin had explained that the cost difference was owing to government regulations that require double-engine aircraft to be used in more densely-populated areas.
“If one engine goes out, you can use the second,” Junkin said. “You can get away with a single engine in rural areas.”
Still, Feeley pointed out more inconsistencies.
“Lookout Village, with 150 condo owners, covers seven acres but only pays a total of $260 — the same as many residents, and yet its acreage is 25 times larger than many of the 294 other residents … it’s safe to say the Town wants to put this behind us and move forward, while at the same time [being] determined to resist all efforts to rectify this year’s problems … ignoring the legitimate concerns of these 294 residents rings hollow beside the values of transparency and trustworthiness you subscribe to in your mission statement.”
Trees Unlimited’s Paul Robertson did his best to defend the spray patterns, saying that there were only two changes to the 2019 mapping.
“I am not going to rebut anything. [Feeley is] very accurate and very knowledgeable,” said Robertson. “He’s been involved in gypsy moths from the very beginning.”
Berkhout Terrace resident Mark Hughes also took issue with the 2019 mapping, which led to CAO David Cribbs offering an exasperated plea for thoughts on the 2020 plan.
“With respect, please come to the [microphone] and tell us,” he said. “We have about 15 minutes left in this meeting, and we’re still waiting for some guidance on what next year should look like.”
Hughes shot back, “I think you should go beyond tonight,” to a round of applause from the crowd. There’s not enough time, he said, in the Town’s intention to lock in a plan for next year in the near future.
Some residents, however, did try to move forward. Rob Tiffin suggested the Town establish a reserve fund for gypsy moths. With experts predicting that climate change will only exacerbate the problem, the risk of damage caused by the moths to the country’s deciduous forests is estimated to grow from the current 15 percent to more than 75 percent by 2050, according to Natural Resources Canada.
Fenwick resident Kevin Ker, a biology professor at Brock, recommended a citizen education program be instituted. This conforms with suggestions previously made that residents consider all personal options for fighting gypsy moths, including tree bands.
A man named Martin said that when he lived in another municipality, he was provided with both bands and traps.
“We need another alternative here,” he said. “I don’t think anybody has a problem with paying $20 for a trap.”
Robertson, however, discredited the traps.
“The only thing that prevents an infestation of gypsy moths is wet weather,” Robertson said. “The pheromone trap I think you are referring to, studies have clearly shown … you actually draw more male moths on to it. Bands, they’re good.”
Foss Road resident Jim Jeffs, meanwhile, echoed the Town’s request that residents visit the Pelham.ca website to read up on the various options.
“I just think there’s a lot of unnecessary discussion, when this should be fairly simple,” he said.
There is still opportunity for residents to submit feedback and submit ideas on the issue. Written statements may be dropped off in person at the lower reception desk in Town Hall, or sent by email to: [email protected]
While you’re here…consider renewing or taking out a Voice Membership to express your support for local journalism.