Not Just Any Flight of Fancy; on Board with the Airport Authority the Buzz about Mosquito Control

Article excerpt

Byline: mark pettus

The Anastasia Mosquito Control District of St. Johns County - a name that may make you wonder not just what they do, but where they do it. The answers depend on when you asked the questions.

In 1948, the district began controlling mosquitos on part of Anastasia Island. During the first year the district had to borrow a sprayer from a farm supply company. The following year, when the district received its first tax dollars, an employee was hired with a salary of $200.

Over the years the district expanded to serve all of St. Johns County, and the staff grew to 36 full-time employees. The Mosquito Control District's budget has grown from $4,500 to more than $6 million. Yet, there are still mosquitos in St. Johns County. OK, that point isn't all that amazing - the goal of the organization is not the extermination of all mosquitos in the county. But there are some specific missions, according to its Web site:

-- To serve and protect the St. Johns County residents through the prevention and control of mosquitos and mosquito-borne diseases.

-- To reduce/control both pestiferous and disease-carrying mosquito population to a low threshold using a variety of methods (Integrated Pest Management) to minimize potential impacts on people and the environment.

-- To become recognized as one of the leading mosquito control districts.

Those sound like laudable goals, even if they did include an extraneous "e" in mosquitos (accurate but unnecessary, mosquitoes is also correct), and use the word "pestiferous" - a $10 way of saying that mosquitos bug people.

The job facing folks elected to the district is deciding how the district should achieve its mission, and in the case of the last goal, whether doing research is part of the mission of a county mosquito control operation. How does the district do its job? With the following programs:

-- Surveillance: The most interesting part of the surveillance program is the use of live bait; chickens kept alive for the sole purpose of being bitten by mosquitos, and having their blood tested every week for signs of mosquito-borne diseases.

-- Control: The district's scientists use phrases like "source reduction," "biological control," "larvicides," and "adulticides." What they mean is killing the little devils - almost as cool as using live chickens for bait.

-- Research: Scientists doing scientific stuff with your tax dollars. Soon they will be doing it on an expensive piece of property near Interstate 95 and Florida 16 that the district purchased last year without first getting an appraisal, according to one board member.

-- Education: This is more important than you might think. Because mosquitos can hatch in less than 2 inches of water, its important you know not to leave those empty coke cans on your fence, unless you're planning to knock them down before the next rain. It's also important to make sure district employees know the latest mosquito-killing techniques.

-- Aerial: The current board approved the purchase of a $1.8 million helicopter. The district now pays commercial aerial spraying firms when it needs an airborne operation performed. Once they district purchases the helicopter, it will assume annual costs for hanger space, maintenance, and a pilot.

Now, you might have (at least) three questions:

1. Should the county (remember, they collect tax dollars from everywhere, not just Anastasia Island) be in the research business?

2. Does the district really need its own helicopter?

3. What's an appraisal?

Beth Bowen is the secretary/treasurer of the mosquito control district, and after serving 12 years, she is not seeking re-election. Bowen says the answer to first two questions is "yes," and she even knows what an appraisal is.

"The research we're doing is applied research," Bowen said, citing examples where such research saved the district money. …