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It seems that Belmont could use a modern-day Pied Piper, since reports of recent rat sightings have increased. Winn Brook residents in the neighborhoods near Claflin and Farnham Streets have received letters from the Belmont Health Department, stating there is evidence that rats may be on the property or in the neighborhood at this time. The letter also states residents should contract with a professional pest control service if they see signs of rat activity.
Peter Fairley, son of Winn Street resident Irene Fairley, said via email that the Health Department letter could result in area residents setting out poison, which is harmful or deadly to other wildlife and pets.
“People are not aware of the impact of the products they use,” he said. A dead squirrel with no markings of an attack was found on their Winn Street property soon after the Farnham Street letter went out, and his mother recognized that squirrel as one that had frequented her backyard on an ongoing basis.
“It was the timing that made me wonder,” said Peter. “At the very least, I thought the town was a bit negligent in not providing some guidance to people. Telling people to hire a professional is not the height of responsibility - most people will get some traps and some poison and call it a day.”
Pleasant Street resident Shirley Wang was informed last week her Claflin Street neighbor had just found a dying rat on their driveway next to Wang’s backyard. Wang did not know of anyone in the vicinity who had put down poison, she said via email, but the rat had no markings of an attack, and was lying on its side, still breathing, when it was discovered.
“It is disturbing to think about a poisoned rat running around,” she said. Other neighborhood dog and cat owners commented on how frightening rat poisoning is for residents who have pets.
“In terms of broadcasting poison into the environment, that’s something we really don’t want to see,” said Wesley Chin, director of the Belmont Health Department.
“We offer free inspections to residents, to take a look around their property and also to take a peek from their yard into abutting properties, to see if there are any concerns. We’ll walk around with you, we’ll look for burrows, we’ll point out risk factors,” Chin said.
Chin said rats don’t travel very far from their burrow. “With a rat sighting, we draw a circle from that location and any property that’s within that 300 to 500 foot radius gets the Health Department mailing.”
One question is whether the new construction at Belmont High School has stimulated the rat resurgence.
“It’s possible that it could be related to the high school construction – we obviously have no way of tracking where the rats come from – but we do know that there has been rodent activity behind some of the Leonard Street businesses,” said Chin. “In the Winn Brook area, I wouldn’t say they were coming from the high school just yet. I would guess they are coming from more of the commercial area.”
The Health Department has been monitoring the restaurants in Belmont Center to ensure that regulations are being followed.
“For the end of July and beginning of August we were back there multiple times a week, monitoring how they were storing their trash,” said Chin. “It’s been good over the past month.”
Residents might wonder why the resurgence of rats happens in Belmont.
“Rats are really smart and they know we have good schools here,” Chin joked. He went on to explain, “If you think about where we are geographically, we’re only five or six miles away from downtown Boston, right next door to Cambridge. These are very densely populated areas, there’s a lot of construction and development going on. Arlington, Watertown and Waltham have struggled with rats, as well as Newton,” Chin added.
“This is a problem in pretty much every city or town in the suburbs,” said Jay Marcotte, director of Public Works, “and Belmont is probably in the most construction we’ve had in the past five years I’ve been here.”
One major concern is the presence of rats in the town’s public parks. “Public Works manages and maintains the parks, and we’ve had a contract for two years now to bait and trap rats in all the parks,” said Marcotte. “The parks also get checked every month for activity, and if there are signs of activity then they add more traps.”
“We try to do a non-lethal, all-natural irritant that makes the rats want to flee,” Marcotte explained. “The actual traps you might see are enclosed, so there’s no way a kid could get their hand in there.”
“Pest control was never part of a playground budget for maintenance up until two years ago, but it is now. We want to be proactive,” Marcotte said.