Sunnyside farmer Merritt Mitchell-Wajeeh says it’s good living in a quiet rural area, until the mosquitoes peak in the summer.
“Just walking to the car from our house is warfare,” Mitchell-Wajeeh said.
Her organic farm is on land adjacent to the Benton County Mosquito Control District and nowhere near the Yakima County district that covers the Upper Valley from Selah to Union Gap. Because of that, she and her neighbors annually deal with heavy swarms of mosquitoes and few options for controlling their population.
“It’s what we see as a public health issue,” she said, noting that mosquitoes are common carriers of the potentially fatal West Nile virus.
For years, she and her neighbors have considered forming their own district. But now Senate Bill 5002 — which passed in the state Senate on Wednesday — could provide an easier route to eliminating the swarms of mosquitoes populating the outlying areas.
The bill would clarify state law to give flexibility to local mosquito control districts to inspect and abate breeding places on adjacent lands outside a district’s official boundaries. It also allows districts to cut or remove shrubbery or undergrowth as part of abatement operations, but that’s subject to consultation with the land owner.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, who in a news release said it would give districts the power they need to address areas where the pests might be “breeding reinforcements.”
“Mosquito control districts were established in 1957 to exterminate mosquitoes and mosquito breeding places, but the law only allows them to work within the district itself,” Honeyford said.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology said the bill wouldn’t present an environmental risk as it does not change the standards control districts are responsible for to protect water quality in abatement areas.
If approved this session, the bill would go into effect sometime in late July, during peak mosquito season. Mitchell-Wajeeh groaned after coming to that realization, but said it would be great to see the state take action nonetheless.
“Better late than never,” she said. “I’m pleased to see our voices have been heard.”