Baltimore group tries to fight rodent problem

Residents hope rallies will make officials control growing rat population

August 25, 1999|By Zerline A. Hughes | Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

Once a week, Gloria Morton places Alka Seltzer, mothballs and red pepper around her yard. She hopes they'll kill the rats.

Her solution, as radical as it might seem, is the best she can do. "Wintertime is coming, and the rats are going to come right into our houses," Morton said.

For the next three weeks, Morton and other Baltimore residents who belong to Baltimoreans Against Rats (BAR) plan to take further steps in a different place to combat the city's rat problem. They plan to rally at 6: 30 p.m. today in the 1400 block of Carroll St. in Pigtown.

Other rallies are planned for 6: 30 p.m. Sept. 1 in the 200 block of W. Biddle St. in Midtown and at 6: 30 p.m. Sept. 8 at an undetermined location in Franklin Square.

BAR's anti-rat campaign is aimed at the city's Department of Public Works and its director, George G. Balog, who they claim has failed to curb the rodents.

The year-old, 200-member organization says Balog promised to conduct comprehensive programs to poison rats with bait throughout the city, enforce sanitation laws and teach the community how to handle trash.

"He promised, but I haven't seen any fliers. I haven't seen a thing," said Morton, a BAR member who has lived on North Calhoun Street in Franklin Square for 50 years. "If the harbor can be clean, why can't the rest of the city be clean?"

In April, BAR rallied at City Hall demanding that Balog discuss a strategy to clean up the city. Balog agreed to assign a task force to set out rat poison in a baiting program and to teach residents how to properly store trash, which he said would take six months.

"I have made 13 promises, fulfilled 10, and I'm working with the remaining three," Balog said. "We said we would conduct an extensive media campaign, and since June we have had announcements 30 times a day on cable [Channel] 21. We put up 600 signs in neighborhoods about baiting and gave out about 10,000 brochures in Spanish and English. I'm taken by surprise at the fact that they said we haven't done anything."

Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher said 20 of the city's 380 neighborhoods have not gotten "You Dirty Rat" brochures that tell residents whom to call for trash management, how to recognize rat infestation and how the city plans to put bait in each community.

Officials say they've also doubled their work force of rat baiters, from 11 to 22, hired two extermination companies to help and handed out more than 18,000 sanitation citations since January, fining people between $25 and $250 for unkempt property.

Several BAR members say some of the community's rat troubles stem from uncleaned vacant lots owned by the city. As a part of today's rally, BAR will clean up three vacant Pigtown lots and invite residents to tell of their experiences with Public Works.

William Chambers, a BAR member who lives in Pigtown, said he saw baiting in the community in the spring, but not since.

"We're going to clean the yards and then challenge the city to put more effort in cleaning their own properties," Chambers said. "It doesn't make sense for the sanitation police to cite private property, when city property is sitting right next to it with rats and weeds."

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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