HARVARD -- The Board of Health is clearing the air of misconceptions about a proposed mosquito-control program, a $55,000 warrant item that town residents will vote on in April.
Member Lorin Johnson reported to the board Feb. 11 that he had explained the logistics of the program to the Finance Committee.
"It was interesting to see that they weren't all aware of the fact that we, in the past, had meetings, we had seminars, that sort of thing," Johnson said. "So when we got to talking about it, they ended up verbally saying that they really understood some of the things."
Johnson said that the program, called the Central Massachusetts Mosquito Control Project, is not a "spray-and-go situation."
Towns can choose to enroll in the CMMCP, which was set up by state law in 1973, but they must fund it themselves. In the Harvard area, Harvard and Bolton are the only two towns that have not enrolled in the program. The surrounding towns of Ayer, Littleton, Boxboro, Stow and Lancaster are enrolled.
Beyond spraying pesticides, the program offers public education and mosquito traps that help determine whether the insects are carrying West Nile Virus.
"Just watching their reaction to what they've learned, it's pretty obvious we have our work cut out for us if we want to get a true public input on this," Johnson said.
The board held a public seminar a few years ago, but Johnson said the presenter did not get to fully explain the program because of the poor reception from the crowd. In 2011, voters also rejected a warrant for larvicide at $5,000.
Chairman Thomas Philippou said after the meeting that the main reason behind the interest in CMMCP is to prevent the kind of massive outbreak that occurred in southeastern Massachusetts a few years ago. He said mosquitoes found in surrounding areas have tested positive for dangerous diseases, such as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
"We can't keep our head in the sand anymore," he said. "We need to start putting this on the agenda list and we need to address it."
Philippou said the program uses a much safer set of chemicals with a much lower concentration than the kind of sprays used in the past.
The board is mainly focused on the possibility of these diseases affecting Harvard residents.
"If the disease-carrying mosquito population becomes dense enough or populous enough to start affecting the town, the option is either we become proactively part of this solution that's targeted or the state decides that they're going to spray by air," Philippou said. "And nobody has any say in what happens at that point."
Residents have the option to opt out of having their property sprayed. The program lasts for three years, after which the town will decide whether to renew it.
The board also discussed holding another public informational session so that people can learn more about CMMCP.
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