Cumberland plans to combat brown tail moths along Route 88

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CUMBERLAND — If a majority of residents along Route 88 agree, the Foreside Road corridor will soon be sprayed to eliminate brown tail moth caterpillars.

The Town Council on Monday approved a contract with Whitney Tree Services to do the work, which would also include some of the public side streets along Route 88.

The vote was 5-0, with Councilor Ron Copp abstaining due to a family conflict, Town Manager Bill Shane reported after the meeting.

Many residents suffered itching and respiratory issues during the last brown tail moth invasion, around 1999, Shane said in an interview April 22.

At the time, “we did some aerial spraying with other towns in the area,” he said, noting that the program was not as effective as hoped. Many residents opted out, due largely to the proximity of intended spraying to the ocean and concerns about the impact on shellfish.

Spraying from the air and skipping properties could be a challenging process, he noted.

This time, the work would occur at ground level, with a truck-mounted sprayer shooting an organic compound at trees about 150-200 feet away. A buffer area reaching 250 feet back from the ocean will not be sprayed, and an additive in the spray will make the droplets heavier, better directing them to the target, Shane said.

Residents must sign a consent form, available at Town Hall or at cumberlandmaine.com. The form must be submitted by May 5 or the town will assume a resident consents to the spraying program.

“Some folks might not want us to spray,” Shane said. “That’s OK. But if we get into areas where it’s just too many people opting out, we may decide that it’s not an effective use of town resources to do this.”

The council authorized spending up to $15,000, likely to come from town contingency funds, the manager said.

“We’re trying to spray the second or third week in May,” Shane said, noting that if the project is delayed until June, the brown tail moth caterpillar can still be killed, but its hairs will have already been released, plaguing people who are sensitive.

The moths also damage trees, eating every leaf, Shane said.

Town funds would only go toward spraying along public roads. If residents on private roads wish to contract with Whitney, the town can work out an arrangement with the company, Shane said.

A recurrence of brown tail moths in Cumberland Foreside was found again last year, and the Maine Forest Service’s entomologist issued a report this January stating that the town should expect a significant infestation this year.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.