2016-11-18 / Front Page

Topsham selectmen favor regional effort to combat browntail moth

BY DARCIE MOORE
Times Record Staff


A BROWNTAIL MOTH eats vegetation in Topsham last June. 
DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD A BROWNTAIL MOTH eats vegetation in Topsham last June. DARCIE MOORE / THE TIMES RECORD TOPSHAM

With the threat of another bumper crop of browntail moth looming, Topsham selectmen on Thursday talked about a regional approach to finding solutions to the nuisance caterpillars and directed their town manager to work on forming a coalition to combat the insect.

Maine Forest Service entomologist Charlene Donahue informed more than a dozen local communities in October that she expects a return of the pest, hoping to give property owners and municipalities time to survey their lands and take action.

“For the second year in a row, there was enough late-summer damage to the leaves, particularly Sagadahoc County, that it could be mapped from the air,” Donahue wrote. “The late-summer defoliation indicates that populations are very high in those areas.”

Contact with the poisonous hairs found on the caterpillars can cause a skin rash similar to poison ivy and some people suffer respiratory distress from inhaling the microscopic hairs.

Pam LeDuc, Topsham’s parks and recreation director, said town staff was asked to research the browntail moth issue. They met with town arborist Kyle Rosenberg, and then Donahue, who both provided recommendations.

“Topsham is probably, as you can see by the map, the most involved community in the region, along the water especially,” LeDuc said.

The town has a recreation field by the Androscoggin River, where LeDuc said it can’t spray. The only affordable option is to trim the trees. The town’s turf maintenance company would do a spray treatment at the municipal complex, the library and the Foreside Road recreation complex on the concession building side of the road, for an estimated $1,200.

LeDuc said Cumberland sprayed its most impacted streets for approximately $15,000 — both on private and public property.

“To do anything such as that, you would have to vote that this is a public nuisance,” LeDuc said. “It would entitle you, under state statute, to use emergency funds should you wish to do so. There is protocol as to how to inform residents if we were going to do something such as that.”

Town Manager Rich Roedner said a meeting of Midcoast town managers is scheduled for Dec. 9 to talk about browntail moth, “and see if there’s a way to work cooperatively in trying to do something along the lines perhaps of what Cumberland did with a roadside spraying program.”

Cumberland considered an aerial program, Roedner said, but you run into issues when several property owners opt out, as well as the proximity of affected areas to the river.

Selectman Dave Douglass said board members have been contacted by multiple people about the browntail moth caterpillar outbreaks.

“It’s a true nuisance, if anyone has had a browntail rash before,” he said. “I am not opposed to putting anything on the table to rid these things. What we’ve got to find out is, is the public willing to accept some of the ways to treat it, and the costs and so forth.”

Selectman Bill Thompson agreed there should be a regional effort, and with local municipal and state officials involved in the discussion.

Selectmen voted 4-0 to have Roedner put together a comprehensive plan to combat browntail moth, to work on creating a regional coalition and plan a presentation for the public in January.

dmoore@timesrecord.com

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