Arbor East residents swarm Cullman City Council meeting over fly problem

Drain flies swarm the porch of a home on Petrea Drive in the center of the Arbor East subdivision Monday evening. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – On Monday evening, more than a dozen residents from the Arbor East subdivision near Cullman’s wastewater treatment plant on County Road 703 came to the Cullman City Council meeting to lodge complaints about large numbers of flies in their neighborhood coming from the plant.  The bugs, known as drain flies, sink flies or sewer gnats, breed in water sources that commonly include plumbing pipes, water conduits and drains.  Those native to North America are not known to carry disease or to be a serious health threat to humans, but their sheer numbers can be a serious annoyance, and they are famous for their resistance to common forms of pest control.

When the council opened the floor to persons not on the agenda, Ryan Hayes was the first to the podium, saying, “We’ve brought it up several times: wastewater treatment plant.  There is a huge problem with insects, specifically the drain fly.  And I know it’s probably been on your plate, and we have contacted them several times.  My main concern is, we’re dumping poison in on our kids and our animals.  This is a constant thing, and every year it’s a surprise: ‘Where did they come from?  Oh, no, they’re here!’  You know?

“So I want to know what we’re doing to correct that issue and what we’re going to do further down the line, so that it’s not a surprise every year.  We’ve got families representing these communities, and it’s pretty rough.  I mean, it’s not like we’ve got just a few flies around.  It’s awful, it’s awful.  I’ve had to put off home repairs because painters can’t paint, you know.  I put a pool in a few years ago; when we’re out there, you know, flies in our eyes, in our noses.  It’s disgusting.  

“We’ve got to come up with a solution.  I want to know what we’re going to do about it.”

Other residents echoed Hayes about the bugs and the possible effects of poisons being sprayed by the City- insisting that the City should fight the bug problem at its source in the plant and not in their streets, and added complaints about the smell from the plant.  Anthony Quattlebaum, a resident of the Ryan Creek subdivision across County Road703 from Arbor East, shared his opinion that the smell at the plant has been less of a problem recently in his neighborhood, but he shared his neighbors’ complaint about the flies.  Many long-term residents from both neighborhoods noted that the problem seems to have escalated rapidly in the last three years.

After all those who asked to speak had their turns, wastewater plant superintendent Jeff Adams stepped up to the podium to respond to the residents’ concerns.

He told the audience, “We are trying different kinds of chemicals, putting them in the water.  And from the entomologist that I’ve talked to in the past, that’s how you eliminate- try to eliminate- these bugs, is in the larval stage.  They say it’s very hard in the adult bug, to try and kill it.”

Importantly, for some, Adams agreed with the residents, saying, “From what the people say, they’re right.  The bugs are awful.”

Adams said he consulted with an entomologist from a pest control company on July 2 about the use of new chemical treatments, and he was informed that treatment would simply take time to be effective, halting the development of larvae while adult flies lived out their three-week life cycle.

Adams said he is also consulting with an entomologist from Auburn University.

He then reached out to the residents and asked them to give him feedback on any pest control chemicals they are using at their homes that seem to be effective in killing adult flies on contact.

Said Adams, “I’d like to ask all you guys, if you find anything that can kill it instantly, I’d like to know about it.”

The superintendent also said he is bringing in a new piece of spraying equipment next week in an effort to increase the effectiveness of the insect control truck that sprays the neighborhood in the evenings, when the flies become more active.

Mayor Woody Jacobs drew the discussion down, assuring the audience he had authorized Adams to bring in an expert, and saying, “The council will pay whatever they’ve got to pay to get somebody in here.”

Council President Jenny Folsom acknowledged the residents’ concerns about the bugs and the possible effects of the sprays, and said, “We are behind this, and trying to solve the problem with professionals who know what they’re doing.”

Adams concluded by inviting the residents to contact him at the plant with any suggestions they might have.

High water problems on 11th Street Northeast

Sam Mazzara, who lives on 11th Street Northeast near Cullman Middle School and Cullman High School, also addressed the council, complaining that rainwater backing up in the area causes mildew and other problems, and could get deep enough to drown someone.

Said Mazzara, “The City uses our backyards and our basements as a retention pond.  It’s just not fair.”

He suggested heavy construction equipment currently in use on a project near the middle school could be used to improve drainage in the neighborhood while it is out there.

According to Jacobs and Folsom, the mayor will be visiting 11th Street with an engineer from St. John & Associates Tuesday.

Swarms of flies like this gather around light sources like porch lights after sundown, annoying homeowners. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

At dusk Monday evening, a Cullman insect control truck sprays along Bower Street in Arbor East. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

W.C. Mann