Cambridge takes aim at rodent problem

by Beacon Staff • September 28, 2005

According to Lisa Peterson, commissioner of the Cambridge Public Works Department, the proposal would instead require the use of "state of the art, rodent-proof trash receptacles" to prevent rodents from tearing through residents' garbage.,"The Cambridge City Council is considering a citywide ordinance that would prohibit residents from putting plastic garbage bags out on the street each trash day.

According to Lisa Peterson, commissioner of the Cambridge Public Works Department, the proposal would instead require the use of "state of the art, rodent-proof trash receptacles" to prevent rodents from tearing through residents' garbage.

If approved, the proposal would also prohibit residents from placing their garbage on the curb before 6 p.m. the night before pickup. Currently, garbage can be placed outside as early as 3 p.m.

Failure to comply would result in a $25 fine per day, according to the City of Cambridge Web site.

Cambridge City Mayor Michael Sullivan said he supports the ordinance and expects it to pass within the next few months. There may be a six-month effective date, Sullivan said.

Assistant Commissioner of Inspectional Services John Fallon said the area's rodent problem has recently improved. In 2004, Inspectional Services received 112 calls about rodent problems, compared with just 38 between January and June of this year, Fallon said.

The ordinance has sparked debate since City Manager Robert Healy first proposed it on Sept. 12. Some residents said the new procedure will be an inconvenience to the over 44,000 households in the Cambridge area that may have to pay for the mandatory receptacles.

Peterson said Healy did not recommend the city pay for the trash cans because the cost would be prohibitive. According to Peterson, providing such cans would cost the city approximately $440,000.

Sullivan said property owners would be responsible for providing the new bins.

Director of Emerson College's Office of Off-Campus Student Services Christy Letizia said 130 students, both graduate and undergraduate, lived in Cambridge last year.

Mark Linehan, a junior musical theatre major who lives near Central Square, said he thinks the garbage bag ban is a good idea even though he has not had an encounter with rodents.

"We live in a city," Linehan said. "Rats always pose some sort of problem-it's like raccoons in the suburbs."

Other students, like senior film major Evan Goldman, wondered if the proposal is necessary.

"I had never heard or seen any rats," said Goldman, who lives near Central Square. "I haven't seen any problems that would make me feel that there needed to be changed."

Goldman said he thinks the ban should be decided based on whether or not specific residents have had trouble with rodents.

Fallon said rodents live throughout Cambridge, but there is extra activity in the neighborhood between Prospect and Hampshire streets known as Area 4. The problem has diminished, in part, because the department has an inspector assigned specifically to rodent calls, Fallon said.

Sullivan said the ordinance will be a needed move toward fixing a longstanding problem in the city's garbage disposal procedure. "Trash bags have never been an appropriate receptacle for trash," Sullivan said.

Other experts in the pest and rodent removal field said this is a logical step for the city to take in order to reduce the rodent population.

"When you eliminate the source of food product that the rodent is trying to consume, often you can help control population growth," said Lisa Iafrate, office manager for a local branch of Terminix serving the Cambridge area. "It would definitely decrease the population, but to what extent I couldn't possibly be sure."

Fallon agreed that the ordinance would help further limit the presence of rodents. "The proposal will have a good impact," he said. "We advocate putting [trash] in barrels with tight-fitting lids."

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