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State dedicates $330K to midge treatment at Baltimore Co.'s Back River

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Posted at 9:04 AM, Mar 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-09 18:59:18-05

Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state will dedicate $330,000 in funds to treat midge "hot spots" in Baltimore County's Back River.

The insects have posed a nuisance and created significant economic ramifications for tourism, local businesses and community facilities.

“We're down probably 50 percent in our slip rents and people just enjoying themselves and coming down to the waterfront in Baltimore County,” said Sam Weaver, an owner of Weaver's Marine Service and president of Back River Restoration.

Weaver said for years the little bugs have hurt business and tourism and they need help getting rid of them.

“We're not asking to completely cure the problem, just asking to get it manageable so people aren't leaving here or leaving the waterfront,” Weaver said.

Midges don't bite or carry diseases. They appear in warmer months and when they do, Weaver said they swarm in the millions.

“There’s millions of them. We got a golf cart to ride out to the pier, you need a full-faced helmet on to ride out the pier at night or else you get a mouth full of them, ears, nose, mouth everything else full of them, it's ridiculous,” he said.

In October 2016, Governor Hogan offered to have the state split the cost of a $1.3 million treatment program with Baltimore County, but county officials refused the state’s offer, stating that the plan would do little to fix the problem.

“The county really has the responsibility to address this problem but has continually refused to do anything about it, and has ignored the pleas of Baltimore County citizens,” said Hogan. “Despite the county’s refusal to act, we have decided to move forward anyway in order to provide a measure of relief for the area prior to the next boating and tourism season, and we hope that the county will see fit to join in and add county funding as well.”

The county called Governor Hogan's planned midge treatments a "Band-Aid approach" that will have little effect on the midge population and will result in a waste of taxpayer funding.

“The only real way to address this midge population is to reduce the nutrients from the wastewater treatment plant at Back River and actually dredge the sediment out of the bottom of that river. It's very difficult to do that, very costly to do that and that's not a practical solution to this problem,” said Vincent Gardina, the director of the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection & Sustainability.

State Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-District 6) knows Governor Hogan’s treatment is not the answer but he sees it as temporary relief for his constituents.

“The state is doing their job and we've asked the county if they can help us out in some way and for some reason they just seem to not be helping us out and that's just the honest truth,” he said.

Even though the affected businesses and homeowners fall within the county's jurisdiction, Gardina said the water, from which the eggs hatch, does not.

“Back River is waters of the state and as such, it's the responsibility of the Maryland State government to address any problems that result in those waterways. This is not a Baltimore County responsibility, and the governor's proposal we don't think is adequate based on the science. It's based on politics and not the science,” said Gardina.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources conducted a study in 2014 after receiving numerous complaints from residents and business owners.

The study concluded that nutrient pollution from the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant is the likely cause of the midge infestation in the area.

Upgrades to the plant are on track to be completed by 2018, but the infestation still poses an immediate impact to marinas, restaurants with outdoor seating and other small businesses, as well as activities at a local senior center.

WMAR Staff contributed to this report.

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