By Till Kaeslin
BU News Service
This article was previously published in the Belmont Citizen Herald.
The suburbs have long been seen as a place to get away from all the craziness of the city.
But while Boston’s suburbs are still a safe haven from city congestion, blaring car horns, and overcrowded apartment complexes, there is one urban pet peeve that has managed to burrow and crawl it’s way outbound. Rats.
Beginning a little over a year ago, concerns over these pesky little rodents closed down Joey’s Park twice, initially in October of 2017 and then once again in February of this year.
Rat-proof trash cans too expensive
After the park reopened for the final time this past spring, the Belmont Board of Selectmen voted to institute a carry-out policy, removing all trash cans from the park and asking visitors to take any trash with them when they leave in an effort to reduce waste in the park that might have been attracting the rats.
Some Belmontians were not pleased. On Sept. 21, Belmont resident Emily Peterson started a petition to install rodent-proof Big Belly Solar Trash Cans at Joey’s Park, which received over 200 signatures. After holding a public hearing on the carry-out policy on Sept. 28, the Board of Selectmen determined it was not fiscally feasible to purchase and maintain these Big Belly barrels, but asked Belmont Department of Public Works Director Jay Marcotte to return four of the original barrels to Joey’s Park to address citizen concerns.
But a month after the carry-out policy was rescinded, there is still a worry of rats returning, Marcotte wrote in an email.
Marcotte wrote over the past four weekends, Public Works has picked up over 80 large trash bags at all the parks in town, some of them overflowing.
The town will continue monitoring the situation until the end of the calendar year, Marcotte said, reminding Belmontians keeping the parks safe and clean is a team effort and to dispose of their trash responsibly.
Rat sightings double
It is not just Joey’s Park that is affected. Belmont’s Health Department Director Wesley Chin provided data showing the number of rat sightings reported to the Health Department more than doubled last year, from a total of 44 in 2016 to 98 in 2017. The Health Department has currently recorded 84 reports of rat sightings since the start of 2018, just a few reports shy of reaching last year’s total with two months still left in the year.
While it’s not generally known why Boston suburbs are seeing rats in greater numbers, Chin said properly disposing of trash is definitely a key component in keeping them away, whether in public spaces like Joey’s Park or within one’s own home.
Chin also pointed to large-scale construction projects disturbing underground burrows and warmer winters brought on by climate change allowing rats to reproduce at an exponentially higher rate as causes for the uptick in rat sightings.
‘Too much junk in their yards’
Aleida Leza, a resident of Belmont, said it is up to her and her fellow neighbors to clean up after themselves in order to best keep rodents out of the park and the neighborhood in general.
“It’s just a matter of common sense, it’s a matter of trying to make sure to keep the trash contained and well-covered,” Leza said. “People keep too much junk in their yards that serve as habitats for rats.”
Another Belmont resident, Caitlin Finlayson, said the fact that rats are an issue in an area where the neighborhood’s kids play is concerning.
“It’s really disturbing, I don’t like the idea of our kids playing around an area that has a ton of rodents,” Finlayson said, keeping an eye on her own toddler as she played in Joey’s Park. “Underneath the playground, I think is what I’ve heard, and that’s disturbing. It makes me question the structure itself, if it’s safe.”
Town looking for solutions
If any resident of Belmont has concerns about a rat problem in their own home, Chin said the town offers free educational inspections, in which they’ll send over an expert to a resident’s home to look out for telltale signs of rodent life, including chewing marks, rat droppings and holes in the ground that may resemble rat burrows. The expert will also advise residents on what to do to best address the problem.
However, when all is said and done, Chin said Belmont’s proximity to Boston and the resilient nature of rodents in general, means rats are just something the town’s people will have to live with.
“We’ll never be able to entirely rid the area of rats, but it’s really a community wide effort to combat the problem,” Chin said. “If people take the proper steps and precautions to try to keep their property as unattractive as possible to rats, it can help with the problem.”