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Aerial skeeter spray likely

The growing threat of West Nile virus has Fargo officials considering aerial spraying to control mosquitoes this summer, an action the city hasn't seen in more than a decade.

The growing threat of West Nile virus has Fargo officials considering aerial spraying to control mosquitoes this summer, an action the city hasn't seen in more than a decade.

The measure, proposed at Monday's Fargo City Commission meeting by Cass County Weed and Vector Director Kristi Biewer, is part of an increased county effort to control what is no longer only a nuisance problem.

"The current year is setting up to be a very busy and demanding year with the West Nile virus," Biewer told commissioners.

Health officials on Thursday announced the year's first equine case of the virus in the Fargo area.

One aerial spray for Fargo would likely cost between $50,000 and $100,000, though the price is still being negotiated, County Engineer Keith Berndt said. Any citywide application would come from city funds, not from the county's $262,000 vector control budget.

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Dean Solum of Airborne Custom Spraying in Halstad, Minn., is the only certified aerial mosquito sprayer in the Upper Midwest.

On Biewer's recommendation, the City Commission agreed to seek to retain Solum for his services this summer. The motion also allows Solum to seek Federal Aviation Administration approval to spray over the city.

Berndt told commissioners he would soon speak with city officials about funding requests for the service.

Meanwhile, Berndt and Biewer plan to request more funds for their mosquito-control effort at the next County Commission meeting. The supplemental request, which Berndt said could run from $100,000 to $200,000, would pay for as many as 10 full-time summer employees, several more ground sprayers and more chemicals.

Biewer's staff will also have two LarvaSonic machines at their disposal this summer. The machines use sound waves to kill mosquito larvae, but do not harm other wildlife.

Workers will begin monitoring nesting sites throughout the county this week and likely will begin collecting traps next week.

Last year Grand Forks, N.D., officials called in their first aerial spraying since 1994 to fend off West Nile. Air Force planes from the local base there supplied the equipment, so the total cost to the city was about $9,000, said Todd Hanson, Grand Forks' mosquito control director. In good weather, one spraying can suppress mosquito populations for 24 to 48 hours, Hanson said.

"For (controlling the mosquito) nuisance, I would have a hard time justifying the cost," he said. "But it's well worth the cost for health risks."

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538

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