In response to a rat infestation that had residents up in arms,the city and New York City Transit have stepped up efforts to quellthe problem which has plagued New Utrecht Avenue near 79th Streetfor months.
The increased attention to the problem occurred after CommunityBoard 11 demanded that the strip be cleaned, after someone livingnearby came to the board to complain about the rat infestation inher home, which she contended was likely caused by debris piling upin open columns due to ongoing MTA construction on the D lineoverhead.
After Cathy Santopietro told the board at its November meetingthat she had spotted the rodents scurrying around open columns thatsupport the elevated tracks, Marnee Elias-Pavia, district managerof Community Board 11, went out to do an inspection along with Dr.Robert Corrigan, also known as New York City’s Rat Czar.
It was 9 a.m. and a very sunny day. I kid you not, a rat ranright over my foot, around the corner and into one of the opencolumns. No exaggeration, Elias-Pavia told board members gatheredat the Holy Family Home, 84th Street and Bay 16th Street, for theirDecember meeting., adding that the columns were filled with litter,debris and standing rain water.
It was after her encounter with the scurrying rodent thatElias-Pavia requested that the MTA bait and seal up the columns,which they did with orange plastic mesh between the two boardmeetings. The Department of Sanitation (DOS) also put trash basketson corners so students from nearby New Utrecht High School have aplace to throw litter. Elias-Pavia said that, so far, thesemeasures appear to be helping.
However, board members felt more could be done. They voted torecommend that DOS increase street cleaning along New UtrechtAvenue from 61 Street to 86 Street six days a week instead of thecurrent three or four. Elias-Pavia said that this could be donewithout taking manpower from other tasks, by reorganizing existingshifts.
But Santopietro said that the damage is already done. They atethrough my cement foundation and made a four-inch hole. They [theMTA] think the rats won’t eat through the mesh they put up? shesaid, adding that she has not had any new infestations in her home,but she is still getting rid of dead rats – and it’s costing hereven more money.
She added that if the MTA had no fault in the situation, theywould not be taking the measures they are now. This should havebeen done to begin with, Santopietro said.
Kevin Ortiz, a spokesperson for the MTA, admitted that there hasbeen an increase in the rat population due to garbage being thrownin the columns.
To be clear, the rats are not a result of the constructionitself, he said, adding that contractors have been instructed toclean out the columns every day instead of two days a week. Wealso have covered a substantial number of barriers with mesh tentsto prevent people from throwing food and garbage inside.
Ortiz went onto say that the MTA is working with the HealthDepartment to improve the situation. We ask area residents andpedestrians to dispose of their garbage properly and refrain fromthrowing garbage into the barriers.
Elias-Pavia stressed that keeping New Utrecht Avenue clean is acommunity effort and said that the board will do some outreach toresidents on how to dispose of trash properly. We need cooperationfrom residents to get garbage off that corridor, she said. Thegovernment can’t do everything.
Dr. Corrigan will come back to the area and do another canvassin the upcoming weeks. He will also give homeowners tips on how tokeep rats from coming into their houses. These include not settingout garbage until the proper collection time and sealing up holesin between cement and dirt yards to prevent rats fromburrowing.