Union Park Neighborhood Association (UPNA) is on a mission to remove rats from the area. After forming a Rodent Remediation Committee, which worked together to do a walkthrough of the Union Park area and research different ways to address the problem, the group held a public meeting on October 6 to report their findings and get feedback from neighbors.
They said that they hope this is one of several meetings to get a real grasp on the issue, which has caused property damage to several neighbors as well as poses a health risk to the neighborhood.
UPNA President Abigail Cohen reported that the committee’s “general action plan” includes things like distributing pamphlets to residents with information, holding meetings to ask neighbors to become involved with things like exterminators, composting, reporting rats to 311, and letter writing, communicating with the city about trash pickup and sewers, and asking mayoral candidates about their solutions for the rodent issue.
Cohen said that there are “three main problem areas” when it comes to rodents, which include wet space such as drain pipes that allow water to be out in the open, access to food, including topless garbage bins, squirrel and bird feeders, and dog waste bags, and cover, which includes leaves and ground cover such as ivy.
The committee talked about several different actions and provided information that was researched for each action, including composting, hiring an exterminator for the entire problem area, and other solutions like better trash bins.
The first topic discussed was composting, which Cohen said would help to “remove access to food waste,” as many different types of food items (and non-food items) can be composted. The committee spoke with Black Earth Compost, and Cohen said that the group liked the company because of their bin options, items accepted, and pricing.
She said that Black Earth collects compost curbside once a week in bins with “tops that seal.”
Cohen said that the cost of composting with Black Earth is $20.99 per month per household, but if 10 or more households sign up, they will receive 50 percent off of the first service.
If 50 South End households become part of this program, the price is lowered 40 percent for six months, which amounts to $14.99 per month for those residents.
Cohen said that aside from removing access to food for rodents, composting has other benefits such as enriching the soil and reducing greenhouse gases by putting less into landfills, therefore reducing methane emissions.
Conor Miller from Black Earth Compost also attended the meeting and was able to answer some questions from residents. One resident asked if rats could chew through the compost bins, which are offered in four gallon and 13 gallon sizes. Miller said that the bins are made of recycled plastic, and he has heard of squirrels chewing on lids, which can be replaced for about $8.
Bob Williams said that the “Pine Street trash bins are really heavy duty plastic bins and they have been chewed through by rats. It just needs to be something that’s managed—when that happens, they have to be replaced.”
Resident Beverly Sky said that “composting is great in theory,” but she said that she does not want to have “rotting food” in a bin inside her house for an entire week, and some people are unable to carry a bin out to the street for curbside pickup. She said it would be a “real challenge” to get all residents in the area to start composting. She also called out restaurants as being “guilty for providing a lot of food for these rodents.”
Miller said that these bins block out odor, and resident Kristen Massimine said that residents need to be educated about composting which can alleviate some fears about it.
Miller added that some towns and states are beginning to require that residents compost, Vermont being one example. He said that many landfills are funning out of space and composting is a way to help with that issue.
Bob Williams reported on research done about hiring an exterminator for the entire affected area.
He said that Ultra Safe Pest Management is used by several residents in the neighborhood, and has a “good rating; good reputation in the Boston area.”
Williams said that a field manager from the company came to the neighborhood on a garbage day to assess the situation at each property.
He said that Ultra Safe is “willing to do a whole area assessment versus property by property,” and will also offer steep discounts for a “neighborhood-wide approach to this.”
About 19 properties are the target of the baiting work by Ultra Safe, Williams said, in the area of Draper’s Lane and Ivanhoe St. He also showed a map of the problem area to attendees of the meeting.
There was also discussion of trash pileups at Villa Victoria and concerns about water with grease in it from Vejigantes Restaurant.
Williams said that an approach to start would be to go to the owner of Vejigantes and see if there is an alternate way of cleaning that would prevent the grease water from exiting via the storm drain and attracting rats. Secondly, they can see if the city’s health department is able to assist in any way.
City Councilor Ed Flynn said he has worked with restaurants in his district in the past, and has held council hearings about “pest control and illegal dumping.” He said he’d be happy to set up a meeting with owners of Vejigantes and Villa Victoria. “It’s about everybody working together,” he said. “Pest control is a critical issue in the city.”
Cohen did add that Villa Victoria has changed its dumpsters “at our request,” but there is still more work to do with renters and proper trash removal in that area ad others where there is dumping.
Williams said that as far as pricing, which would include bait traps for the 19 affected properties, would be anywhere from $35 to $55 a month per property depending on how many traps are needed. He said that the regular price per property for two bait stations is $95.
After baiting, Ultra Safe would need to return to the area in 90-120 days to see which properties still require the traps.
“We need 80 percent participation for the area approach to be effective and to lock in discounts,” Williams said, which is 15 out of the 19 properties. He added that if this program is successful, “we’d look at expanding this to the entire UPNA area.”
Beverly Sky said she believes that UPNA should be the entity that hires Ultra Safe and foots the bill. “We pay our dues to UPNA,” she said. “This is a serious health and property damage issue. I would vote that the UPNA should pay for this company to come in and ameliorate the issue.”
She said that rather than having each property have their own contract with the extermination company, UPNA should be the one to handle that and she would “be happy to pitch in” to a fund that would handle the cost of the extermination program.
Williams said he agrees and “would love to see the neighborhood association, at minimum, subsidize” the cost for residents.
Kristen Massimine added that “there is only so much we can do on private property” as a neighborhood association. She said that homeowners would still have to give permission for the exterminator to treat their property.
Cohen said that during the walkthrough, the committee discovered that many trash bins do not have lids, and some folks do not have any trash bins at all due to lack of storage for them.
She suggested collapsible bins, which can still be chewed through by rats but at least provide one more layer of protection, as well as telling residents to make sure all pet waste is disposed of into a trash bin and not left on the sidewalk or on top of trash bins.
She also spoke about a letter writing campaign, which includes a letter drafted by the committee that residents “can send to city officials.”
Cohen also advised residents to use 311 to report sightings of rats, as this has been beneficial, as well as to report missed trash pickups or illegal dumping so the city can stay on top of it.
She said that at the next meeting, a fund for the extermination costs will be further discussed, as well as ContraPest, a product that controls the reproduction of rats, which was brought up by Beverly Sky.
Councilor Flynn said that educating the neighborhood about this issue is “critical,” as well as “engaging the Cantonese [and] Spanish speaking residents as well. He said he is willing to help “in any way I can.”
Cohen said that there will be more opportunities for the public to engage with this issue. “This is really just the beginning of trying to come up with solutions that we can control,” she said. “The city is responsive, but I just think there are actions that we can take ourselves.”