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War on midges declared in Baltimore County

Sam Weaver Credit: John Lee
Sam Weaver, owner of Weaver Marine, speaks at a news conference in Essex about midges. Credit: John Lee

Back River in Baltimore County is dealing with an infestation of midges. The gnat-like nuisances don’t bite, but are a pain in the neck for business owners and residents.

Officials are tying the midge infestation, in part, to the city’s troubled wastewater treatment plant.

For Sam Weaver, who owns Weaver’s Marine in Essex, midges when they swarm are no joke.

“You can’t tell what color your boat is,” Weaver said. “You can’t get on your boat. If you open your mouth, your mouth’s full of them. You get them in your eyes, your ears.”

Weaver said his marina has lost millions in business driven away by the midges. He said other businesses are being hit too because customers are going where the midges aren’t.

“We’ve lost half of our slip rent, which is a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year,” Weaver said. “But they didn’t buy gas, they didn’t paint their bottom, they didn’t go to the restaurants, they didn’t go out to eat dinner, they just weren’t here. And a lot of them moved to Kent Island and a lot of other places that are now benefiting from customers that should be here in Baltimore County.”

County Executive Johnny Olszewski said they are aerial spraying a bacteria that kills midge larvae. He said the county wants Baltimore City’s wastewater treatment plant on Back River treated for larvae as well.

“Getting treatments both in the plant and in the water will resolve the issue so that people can come back,” Olszewski said.

Republican County Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Back River said, “A partnership is needed with the treatment plant” to keep the larvae inside “from being discharged into the water.”

The state took control of the plant last month because it says it has been dumping nutrients and dangerous bacteria into Back River.

What to do about the midges goes back years. It even was an issue in the ongoing feud between Gov. Larry Hogan and former County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who died in 2018.

The state and the county have agreed to split the $825,000 annual cost of the aerial spraying. According to the county, it is using a non-toxic larvacide which does not harm people, fish, crabs or other aquatic invertebrates. It will be sprayed from a helicopter five or six times this spring and summer. They will be zeroing in on 1200 acres of upper Back River.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2