Mosquito madness? The buzz on construction site infestations

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A photo taken from a neighbor’s back deck June 11 shows standing water in the construction site’s retention pond. Courtesy of Mary Huey A photo taken from a neighbor’s back deck June 11 shows standing water in the construction site’s retention pond. Courtesy of Mary Huey

As the Zika virus spreads, a homeowner in a city neighborhood says her last utility bill included a list of tips to reduce mosquito-attracting water on her property. Across the street from her, however, workers at a residential construction site have dug a retention pond that might be filled with just that.

“It seems ironic that I am furnished [with] tips like emptying flower pot plates to cut down on mosquito breeding water and a huge pit of stagnant water is allowed to be installed,” says Mary Huey, who lives on Village Road across from the construction site. At the beginning of mosquito breeding season, too, she adds.

Epidemiologist Kerry Morrison from the Charlottesville/Albemarle Health Department says the neighbors won’t have to worry about the Zika virus spreading on the site. Only two types of mosquitoes found in Virginia—the Asian tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito—are capable of transmitting the virus, she says, and both species lay their eggs exclusively in containers of water, such as dog bowls or bird baths. They don’t lay eggs in ground bodies of water such as puddles, ponds or streams.

But the Virginia Department of Health’s “mosquito guy” and entomologist David Gains says non-Zika carrying skeeters are still attracted to stagnant groundwater. However, floodwater mosquitoes are generally only drawn to ponds with floating vegetation (unlike the new retention pond) and a one-acre pond generally draws fewer mosquitoes than a container of stagnant water that’s three inches in diameter, he says.

Back in the city, another concerned Village Road neighbor, Todd Wielar, who says his home is “quite literally right behind” the construction site with the pond that he describes as “half a football field long” and sometimes a foot deep, reached out to the site’s developer, Adam Swartout.

After cursory research, Wielar says he proposed to the developer a product called Mosquito Dunks to get rid of the pests, though he hadn’t yet noticed their presence. Huey agrees that she hasn’t noticed an increase in mosquitoes in the neighborhood, and she would “like very much not to,” she says.

Shortly after Wielar’s recommendation, Swartout instructed the construction crews to purchase the products. They were dunked into the pond earlier this month.

Mosquito Dunks are EPA-registered, palm-sized disks made of chemicals that kill the pesky insects before they’re old enough to lay eggs; the chemicals are non-toxic to all other wildlife, pets, fish and humans. They can also be used in containers of water.

Swartout, with Castle Development Partners, says his group has “very much tried to be good neighbors there,” and that he is required to manage and control all of the rainwater on his site, which is a residential construction zone for 241 upscale apartments called Beacon on Fifth. The retention pond will be turned into a stormwater management facility.

City spokesperson Miriam Dickler says the site is monitored every 14 days and 48 hours after a runoff-producing rain. While there is nothing explicitly about mosquitoes in the city code, one section declares it unlawful for any person on private property to allow a “public nuisance,” such as stagnant water.

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