HARVARD — Selectmen did not debate the pros and cons of membership in the Central Massachusetts Mosquito Control Project this year. Offered to local communities annually, participation calls for a City Council or Town Meeting vote. But the board didn’t discuss putting the question on the Annual Town Meeting warrant. They already know the town’s stand on the issue: No thanks.
According to the CMMCP website, the program includes broadcast spraying and dousing still water declivities and swampy areas with oily substances to prevent larval bugs from hatching, among other control methods.
Residents who spoke at the May 11 selectmen’s meeting said they’re concerned about allowing Devens to sign on, even if the town doesn’t. They prefer natural controls such as birds and bats, they said, and are worried that some CMMCP methods are invasive and could bypass owner’s objections to access their property. They also said that if spraying targets Devens areas abutting their land, prevailing winds would bring it their way, too.
During a short morning meeting on May 5, the selectmen considered a request from the Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBOS) on behalf of the Devens Committee to participate in the mosquito control program. The committee represents residents of the small Devens community whose only access to the program has been via the selectmen and Town Meeting process in Ayer and Harvard, where they vote as legal residents. Although there’s Devens land in Shirley, too, none of its residents live there.
Of the three towns, only Ayer participates in the CMMCP program.
A map of the target area shows substantial wetlands dotted with “potential mosquito breeding” areas. A sizable tract belongs to the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, controlled by the U.S. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Devens Committee representatives have been lobbying to participate in the CMMCP program for years and have come before previous Harvard selectmen with no luck..
Apparently fed up with that route, the committee went to MassDevelopment, which has municipal jurisdiction over the former military base until final disposition is decided and to JBOS, which is comprised of selectmen from Ayer, Harvard and Shirley. MassDevelopment, in turn, has taken its case to the Attorney General.
Meantime, resident and former selectman Bill Ashe came to the May 25 selectmen’s meeting to protest the selectmen agreeing to the JBOS request.
Citing a vote in the 1980’s to eschew participating in the mosquito control program, Ashe said it would require a subsequent Town Meeting vote to nullify the previous vote.
Citing Devens enabling state legislation, Chapter 498, Ashe said Devens is not a community but a Harvard neighborhood whose residents can vote in town
“Why did the selectmen vote on that issue after 20 years of a no-spraying policy?” he asked. “Was it for environmental reasons? Public health?”
Chairman Peter Warren said the selectmen were responding to “Harvard residents on Devens” who asked for it through Devens Committee representatives.
Ashe, who has professional expertise in the field, presented an environmental case against the program., including the impact on “other critters” besides mosquitoes, some of which are “very desirable,” such as bees and butterflies. Bees are pollinators, beneficial to farmers, he said. And the spray could hurt fish, too.
“The selectmen should reconsider this,” Ashe said. “It’s no small matter.”
Warren said the selectmen had tried to gain some insight by inviting representatives from MassDevelopment and the Central Mass Mosquito Control Project to the May 25 meeting to make a presentation about the program but got no response from CMMCP. George Ramirez, executive director of MassDevelopment at Devens responded but said he couldn’t make it.
In a May 3, 2010 memo, JBOS asked the selectmen if they objected to allowing the CMMC program to move forward next door.
Green light, With Conditions
The memo reads, in part, “The Devens Committee requests a statement of either no objection or disapproval regarding the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (DREZ) request to enroll in the Central Mass Mosquito Control Project.” It was a yes or no, check-box query with two options: “no objection” or “disapproves.”
Beside the “no objection” box they checked off, the selectmen wrote that their OK is contingent on the Attorney General giving the process a legal stamp of approval. Basically, that’s a green light with conditions.
The document the selectmen cited as a basis for the condition excerpts minutes from the March 28 meeting of the State Reclamation and Mosquito Control Board, (SRMCB) under whose auspices the Central Mass mosquito control program operates.
That board’s support of the Devens request hinges on three conditions:
* That MassDevelopment provides a letter of support and request to participate in the project from the Devens Citizens Advisory Committee, (aka Devens Committee.).
* That MassDevelopment provides notarized proof that its Board of Directors seeks membership in the project.
* That MassDevelopment agrees to work with the SRMCB and the Department of Revenue to determine an appropriate membership fee, payable by MassDevelopment.
A motion was made by the SRMBC to accept the DREZ membership application, contingent on those conditions.
And approval from surrounding towns would help.
The minutes also state that the application would be considered only if the three communities gave the proposal a green light or if the Attorney General’s office provided a legal basis. MassDevelopment sought both.
That’s where things stand now. Ayer and Shirley signed off on the JBOS request. Harvard did the same, with a caveat. Town Administrator Tim Bragan said there’s been no word from the attorney general’s office yet.