Many Luzerne County property owners back out of state gypsy moth spraying due to cost

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | December 4th, 2015 5:45 pm

Only 3,214 acres of private property in Luzerne County will be treated in next year’s state gypsy moth spraying program — a fraction of the land originally signed up.

Many property owners backed out of the program, saying they could not afford the spraying bills due Nov. 15, county officials said.

The state requires the spraying of a 500-foot buffer around each residence, which means property owners with small lots must pay for up to 23 acres — $1,265 — if adjacent property owners within that buffer won’t share in the cost, officials said.

County Councilwoman Kathy Dobash called for full or partial county funding of the spraying shortly before the Nov. 15 deadline, but the state required full payment by Nov. 15 to allow enough time to finalize treatment areas and start the bidding process for companies to complete the spraying next year.

The county would have had to come up with more than $1 million to cover the full cost because the initial approved spraying area totaled 21,272 acres, at a charge of $55 per acre.

Property owners approved for spraying paid a combined $176,770.

County staff engineer Keri Skvarla, who also serves as county gypsy moth coordinator, said some additional payments were returned because all property owners within shared buffer zones did not grant permission for spraying, disqualifying others in those zones.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees the spraying program, finalized the spraying boundaries this week, Skvarla said.

The private properties to be sprayed are in 28 municipalities, she said. The municipalities with the greatest participation are in the Mountain Top area — 909 acres in Rice Township and 503 acres in Wright Township, Skvarla said.

State officials have advised property owners to consider hiring their own private contractors if they can’t afford the state spraying. The state requires 23 acres around each home to make the program cost efficient and manageable and does not allow customizing of zones to accommodate property boundary lines.

A gypsy moth outbreak this spring prompted a public outcry for spraying.

Egg masses indicate there will be a “severe” gypsy moth problem in the county next year if the spring is dry and warm, the state said. Healthy trees can usually survive one year of defoliation, but a second year in a row can be deadly, state officials say.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.