Harrogate North residents share stories of fly infestation
By Richard Gaw
L. Gaw, Staff
At one-eighth of an inch long, the phorid fly breeds in, and feeds on, moist and decaying organic matter, as well as in unsanitary areas, and it is widely known throughout entomology as a carrier of disease-causing bacteria. The reproductive potential of the phorid fly female is tremendous, as evidenced by the fact that a female can deposit 40 eggs in a 12-hour period, and more than 500 eggs during her lifetime. They can be found in roadside drains, near rotting vegetables and fruit, in damp compost piles, sewage-contaminated soil, and in landscape material such as mulch.
For the last several years, since 2010, to be exact, the phorid fly has been infesting home after home in the Harrogate North community on the outskirts of Landenberg, and at the Feb. 16 New Garden Board of Supervisors meeting, more than 50 residents of the development said they are fed up with living in a nightmare.
Calling the infestation ‘a serious issue in our community,’ Les Clark, the president of the Harrrogate North Condominium Association, asked the board for help in helping to eradicate the fly from Harrogate, a problem that began five years ago in one home and has now spread to a majority of the community's 120 homes.
The problem is widespread. Clark said that a survey was recently circulated throughout the community that revealed a whopping 107 homes in Harrogate are experiencing infestation to varying degrees – low, moderate and high – and that 41 of those homes are experiencing a “high” rate of infestation.
Clark’s comments served as the introductory tip of a proverbial iceberg, a 30-minute-long revelation by Harrogate North residents, who illustrated to the supervisors just how devastating the deluge of flies have been. Harrogate resident Barbara Runkle, who has lived in the development since 2006, told supervisors that keeping the flies at bay requires her to vaccum her home four times a day. She has found the flies in her toilet tank, her bed, in closets, in her refrigerator and had to replace $2,000 worth of window shades, because the flies had become stuck to the fabric.
"This is like living in a horror movie," Harrogate North resident Helene Intraub said.
Although no one knows for certain where the flies came from, several Harrogate residents are suspecting that because phorid flies are said to breed in moist areas where fungal mold and growth exists, that surrounding mushroom compost farms whose businesses surround Harrogate may be to blame. Clark said that the flies have encroached areas outside of Harrogate, including the nearby Somerset Lake community, in the Brittany Hills development on Gap-Newport Pike, as well as over the Delaware state line, in residential communities in Hockessin.
Clark suspected that the flies began propogating at nearby mushroom composting facilities and migrated their way to Harrogate, and burrowed into the community's organic mulch beds.
He questioned whether -- or not -- these businesses are in compliance with health and safety regulations in the township, county and Commonwealth.
“The question really is, ‘How serious is the potential health risk as these flies infest homes, congregate in living areas and in kitchens, and on food” Clark said. “The most important question is: Where did these flies originate, and what are we going to do about it?"
"We need to engage the owners of the mushroom homes, themselves, because I do not really believe that they know what's going on, or whether they're going with the best practices of what's being recommended," Runkle told the supervisors. "Something has changed, whether it's the chemicals they're using, or perhaps the chemcials are not effective. If I were a mushroom grower, I would not let these flies in my mushroom houses, because they're destroying the mushrooms."
Margo Ewing Woodacre, a former Delaware Senator and a resident of Harrogate North for the past six years, told the supervisors that while she was in office, she took her consituents' concerns to the "people who did have control."
"As a constituent, I am saying, 'Help us,' Woodacre said. "I don't expect you to pull the answers out of your back pocket...but you have the power to get who we need to come in, because we're looking at our clocks. We're not going away, just like those little bugs. We know that you're not the experts, but you've got the power to get us touch with whomever we need."
Assistance to the problem seems to be well underway. Clark told the supervisors that the game plan at Harrogate to help eradicate the insect's poulation will be to remove the top layer of highly-organic soils in mulch beds planted in the community, spray the areas with insecticide, and replace the beds with an inorganic or cedar mulch, which is not suspected to attract the insect.
New Garden Township Manager Tony Scheivert told the residents that he has already reached out to several agencies and elected officials. He said that he is corresponding with a representative from the Pa. Department of Agriculture, who told Scheivert that he plans to schedule a time to visit the Harrogate community. Scheivert said that he also is being connected to a conservation district representstative in Lancaster County.
In other township business, the board approved the request of Anholt Technologies to install sewer lines and create temporary office space on Church Road.
The board agreed to waive Chapter 49 of the Township Ordinance, in order to permit alcohol on the grounds of the New Garden Flying Field during the 216 Chester County Balloon Festival, scheduled for June 24-26. Similar to last year’s festival, the sale and consumption of beer and wine will continue to be held in a wine and beer garden, but to better accommodate the large audiences that are expected to attend this year’s event, Flying Field general manager Jon Martin said that the area will be slightly larger in size.
The board also approved the appointment of Karen Antell and Joseph Miscione to the township’s Open Space Review Board.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.