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Survey says? Board parses proposed poll on deer and ticks

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO Deer & Tick Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel speaking at the Town Board works session Tuesday.

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO Deer & Tick Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel speaking at the Town Board works session Tuesday.

A review by the Town Board at its Tuesday work session to fine-tune a planned survey of residents on tick-borne diseases and controlling the deer population turned, as it has for years whenever the subject is broached, to an argument over the safety and effectiveness of the 4-poster program.

It also dealt with Supervisor Jim Dougherty’s concerns during the survey’s drafting by the Deer & Tick Committee that it was slanted against the town’s employment of 4-posters — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin. Mr. Dougherty, who was absent while on vacation, has been a strong supporter of 4-posters since the Island began participation in a 2008 Cornell University program.

The use of 4-posters is one of three methods used by the town to control tick-borne illnesses and the deer population, along with culling the deer herd and educating the public on the issue. Deer & Tick Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel said at the work session that the latter is by far the most important part of keeping Island residents safe from tick-borne illnesses.

The town’s budget this year for the three parts of the program is $127,000  with 77 percent used for 4-poster units, 16 percent for deer management, and 7 percent for public education.

The proposed survey, to be mailed to all residents, is presently 21 questions covering everything from deer-related vehicle accidents, to finding ticks on your body or being treated for tick related illnesses to questions about the deer population and its effect on the Island’s quality of life.

The board turned to one “yes” or “no” question that some members found problematic: “Do you support the use of 4-posters on Shelter Island to control ticks?” The question continues: “If no, please indicate” and the resident can tick boxes that read “Ineffective,” “Too expensive,” “Environmental concerns” and “Other” with space to make written comments.

Councilman Paul Shepherd noted that there was no space for survey respondents to indicate, if they answered “yes,” they’re reasoning and he “was very uncomfortable with not allowing the supervisor to see this thing.”

Councilman Jim Colligan said that this was an example of what the supervisor was speaking about when he said the survey was slanted to against the use of 4-posters.

Deputy Supervisor Chris Lewis said that Mr. Dougherty had “spent an enormous amount of time to gather funding to support the program and I don’t want to pull any rug out from under him because he isn’t here.”

The board agreed the question would be rewritten and a paragraph at the top of the survey would explain how 4-posters work. The discussion on a final draft will be on the work session agenda next week when Mr. Dougherty will attend.

Mr. Shepherd said he didn’t anticipate that the supervisor will stop the survey from being distributed, to which Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams said, “He can’t.”

Resident Richard Kelly, along-time, vocal opponent of 4-posters because of perceived environmental dangers from permethrin, expressed his concerns again, citing a government reports on the chemical.

Mr. Kelly noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a “Contaminant Candidate List” (CCL) that includes the use of permethrin in certain dosages. The CCL, the EPA says on its website, “is a list of contaminants that are currently not subject to any proposed or promulgated national primary drinking water regulations, but are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems.

Contaminants listed on the CCL may require future regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). EPA announced the Final CCL 4 on November 17, 2016.”

Ms. Lewis said the agenda didn’t include speaking about permethrin and Mr. Shepherd weighed in saying, “Richard, we’ve done this. You and I and everyone you’ve confronted with this. I have this déjà vu thing.”

Mr. Kelly said he sensed Mr. Shepherd was hostile toward him, and the councilman said, “You’re right. I am.”

Ms. Lewis reiterated that “this is not a debate of permethrin.”

Animal Control Officer Beau Payne said the Island’s ground and surface waters have not been tested for the tickicide — but will in the future. Ten percent of  permethrin is the active ingredient for 4-poster usage. After the meeting, Mr. Payne noted that the percentage of active ingredients in solutions “varies greatly by product, target organism and application methods” among other things.

Resident Bruce Raheb told the board he was against the use of 4-posters, citing personal observations that raccoons, squirrels birds and rats used the feeding stands. He noted that many times deer had to wait for the other animals to finish feeding.

Mr. Colligan expressed his frustration at the lack of progress town efforts have had over the years when confronting what most people agree is a public health issue, adding that Chairman Scheibel and others have said it was never the intention “to be married to the 4-posters for decades, but unfortunately we’re finishing our fist decade.”

It had been agreed, the councilman continued, that the use of permethrin was a “necessary evil to drive down tick density levels … I don’t want to have this discussion three or four years down the road on, ‘Do they [4-posters] work, don’t they work?’ They do. But at what expense and what are the unintended consequences of feeding wild animals?”

Mr. Colligan added “there’s no sense having a Deer & Tick Committee anymore if … we’re not making any real headway.”

Near the end of the meeting, Mr. Shepherd, in the “around the table” segment of the session, when members can speak about non-agenda items, asked for perspective on the deer and tick issue. He somehow connected it with global warming, recalling how he had read an article on the issue, noting that “we could be in a lot more trouble than we think and faster than we think.”

After citing statistics about the topic, he said, “There are bigger things afoot and maybe we can find ways to live with our neighbors, the deer, in a more friendly fashion since we’re sharing the same raft on a sea that’s ever rising.”