Rodents give residents, metropolis the runaround

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LOWELL – A Highlands resident was so fed up with the rodent problem in her yard that she reportedly caught and bagged three of them for collection by the town’s animal control officer.

Rats are a problem usually associated with inner cities, but Councilwoman Rita Mercier said the pests have migrated to Lowell’s residential neighborhoods. At last week’s City Council meeting, she suspended the rules to make an emergency motion, urging City Manager Tom Golden to report on and address the rat problem in the Middlesex Street neighborhood around the Department for Works yard.

“We need to address the very serious rat problem that’s going on in the back streets of this area,” Mercier said. “I saw her. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I don’t know where they’re from, but it was pretty scary.”

Councilor Erik Gitschier not only backed Mercier’s emergency motion, he also supported her concerns, saying that city contractor Waste Management’s erratic collection of household waste was contributing to the problem.

“The longer these garbage companies take to get the garbage, or where they don’t pick up stuff, rats are the result,” he said.

Complaints about waste disposal date back to 2021, when residents flooded the community with angry calls about moldy yard waste and household rubbish that hadn’t been picked up on time.

In 2019, City signed a six-year, $28.4 million deal that expires in December 2024. In the past, the city has fined waste management based on performance clauses built into the contract.

At a council meeting in July, Gitschier berated the company for not complying with its garbage contract for private households.

“They leave stinking garbage in the neighborhoods,” said Gitschier at the time. “And now we have rats in our neighborhood. I’m sick of their excuses. If they cannot offer the service, we should find another way. That’s what managers do, and that’s what administrators do for the people who pay the taxes.”

Councilor Vesna Nuon’s motion calling for Golden to address issues with the citywide household garbage collection service is pending.

Christine McCall, director of the department for planning and development and deputy city manager, told councilors that her department recently contracted with a company to develop a pest control plan.

“Last year the council voted to allocate a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act’s funding to a pest control contractor, McCall said. “We are working with Modern Pest Services to provide ‘smart boxes’ and they have some best practices that they will share with us that will help with that.”

According to the Modern Pest website, an Anticimex SMART Box will be placed in areas where rodents are active. Attractants lure the rodent into the box and destroy it efficiently and without toxic pesticides.

Sensors in the trap warn the company of its removal and allow activity to be tracked. Company literature states that the traps attract rodents and do not capture pets or small companion animals.

McCall noted that plans are underway to post a Q&A on the department’s website and to reach out directly in certain neighborhoods with recurring complaints. She also said her department takes complaints by phone at 978-674-4252 and email at rodents@lowellma.gov.

“We’re in the process of setting up an online portal so we can see in real time where rats are being collected so we can move those boxes and get to the root cause of the problems,” McCall told the council. “If it’s a property owner, we work with them on compliance, investigation or fines if that’s necessary.”

Golden mused that this had been an issue for at least four years, going back to his days as state representative.

“I’ve been studying this for the past few years on the north campus at UMass Lowell. And it seems to be sneaking up on us,” Golden said. “I would recommend residents to set up smart boxes in their area, but at the same time also involve DPD. People in the Pawtucket area deployed their own smart boxes.”

He encouraged residents to solve the problem themselves while the city works with the contractor to roll out its rodent intervention program.

“I would definitely open the yellow pages to call rodent control themselves to get it done professionally,” Golden offered. “It’s a cost that can be borne by the homeowner if they don’t want to wait for the next few weeks for us to get it up and running.”

Over at Morey Elementary School on Pine Street, the area where a neighbor bagged her catch, Superintendent Gene Casey from Methuen said he hadn’t seen any rats on the school grounds or in the buildings.

“You know what? I’m telling you, mice can get in anywhere. That’s all we’ve got,” he said. “And when they come in, we’ll get an exterminator and they’re gone. I haven’t seen any rats here. We’ll take care of that.” that the place looks good.”

Just across the yard from the Department of Public Works on Middlesex Street, Harry Putel, a clerk at Angelina’s convenience store, shook his head vigorously: “No” when asked about rats on the property.

“My English is not good,” he said. “But no rats. No.”

An area behind the store was overgrown with knee-high vegetation, an attractive burrowing spot for rats, though none were observed by a reporter Tuesday. Inspections of vacant and neglected lots have also plagued the city due to vacancies in inspection services.

Mercier’s motion to ask the City Manager to report on and address the rat problem in the Middlesex Street neighborhood around the Department of Public Works yard passed unanimously.