Magistrate Judge William Jennings handed down the maximum sentence possible for England, who had been cited for an environmental health violation for breeding mosquitoes in standing water. The judge’s sentence was the stiffest punishment this year for such an offense.
“I am very concerned about the health dangers these pools constitute in Richmond County,” Jennings told The Augusta Chronicle after the court session. He added that England’s sentence, like any that Jennings imposes, should establish guidelines for other people.
England is the landlord for a property on Richards Road where Richmond County Mosquito Control Operations Manager Fred Koehle said England was given several chances to return the pool to working order or fill it in with dirt.
An extremely wet summer contributed to a big mosquito population, but the increased number of complaints mostly reflects the public’s heightened awareness for reporting mosquito problems, Koehle said.
In recent months, the county’s mosquito control has been trying to eliminate swampy pools found to be breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Many of the pools are at abandoned or foreclosed houses, but when the responsible property owners can be found, Koehle is trying to hold them accountable.
“Fix the pool or call us if there’s a problem,” Koehle said. “If you have a good reason (for not maintaining it), we’ll do everything we can to help somebody.”
England was first notified that the pool needed to be cleaned in September 2011, Koehle said. By that November, an inspection was conducted and the pool had been returned to working order.
In January, mosquito control inspected the pool again after a complaint was registered with the county. The pool was treated with larvicide, and England was sent a letter giving 30 days’ notice to correct the issue. The homeowner tried covering the pool with a tarp, but it collected large amounts of standing water.
Koehle told the judge that England was given information in March on how to fill in the pool. In summer, he was given more notice and an extension to fix the pool.
England told the judge he had not received notices recently, but Jennings had him verify the mailing address.
Swimming pools that are not treated with chemicals or don’t have a working filtration system to keep water circulating can breed mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus, Koehle said. England’s swimming pool could potentially produce 500,000 mosquitoes in a season, he said.
Koehle said he appears in court once or twice a month for swimming pool violations. Sometimes, people who receive a subpoena start filling in the pool with dirt before the court date. Two people have gone to jail this year, receiving sentences of five and 10 days, Koehle said.
Twenty-three mosquito species are known to breed in the Augusta area, and, of those, 22 carry West Nile, Koehle said.
Mosquito Control began its program to inspect and treat swimming pools in late 2009. Since then, 240 pools have been inspected. Of those, 190 pools were returned to an operational state or filled in, and 12 were recently treated with mosquitofish that eat mosquito larvae. The remainder are correcting the problems or the owners are being notified.
This year, Mosquito Control has received nearly 1,800 complaints for mosquito problems at residences. Koehle said. In 2012, 1,425 complaints were received, and in 2011, 525.