Gem County community wants emergency help for mosquito mess

SWEET, Idaho (KBOI) - A meeting in a Gem County community to discuss solutions for its mosquito problem ended soon after a county official walked out, according to organizer Linda Lowe.

KBOI 2News was at the Sweet-Montour Elementary School Tuesday night when Jason Kinley, director of the Gem County Mosquito Abatement District, interrupted the meeting as neighbors asked a health official where they could turn for help.

Lowe said Kinley had not been invited, and when she tried to regain control of the meeting, he stormed out and about half of the 50 people in attendance followed him. She said besides recruiting a couple of volunteers, little was accomplished to deal with the excessive amount of mosquitoes in their area.

"It's just a horrible, horrible situation," Lowe said. "You have to stay indoors. There's no life. And we've got farmers and ranchers out here that have to work outside. They have to. That's how they make their living."

Lowe organized the meeting amid fears the West Nile Virus would claim more lives in their communities, Sweet and Montour, in Gem County.

"We're vulnerable," said Margie Kulberg, a Montour resident who lost her husband to the virus last year. "You have no idea which one lands on you, and you will suffer the consequences when you have someone who's sick and you watch them not recover."

The abatement district covers 20 percent of the land in Gem County and about 90 percent of its human population, according to Kinley. Sweet and Montour are not in the district, so residents are petitioning to join but say the process is a difficult one. Annexation could take up to two years, and residents say that's not time they have.

"But in the meantime, in the interim, for the next two years, we have no help," Lowe said. "We have to do something."

She questioned a speaker at the meeting about the threshold for emergency help.

"What constitutes an emergency? That's what we want to know," Lowe asked. "How many people have to get sick or die or animals or whatever before we can get some help?"

"I wish I could answer that question, black and white," responded David Loper, director of Environmental Health Services at Southwest District Health. "It's not really a black-and-white designation."

After several more questions about the possibility of emergency assistance, Kinley stepped in to say that the health department is involved in mosquito surveillance but not spraying.

"The reason why you're not seeing any action -- planes flying, fogging trucks up and down the roads -- is because we have an issue with jurisdiction here," Kinley said.

Organizers collected signatures at the meeting on a petition that could potentially land the issue on the November ballot. Voters would decide whether Sweet and Montour could join the Gem County Mosquito Abatement District. Lowe said she has collected about 100 signatures but that she's exploring all options to find a solution as soon as possible.