MONTOUR, Idaho -- Northern Gem County has a horrible mosquito problem but no mosquito abatement program. Some residents have complained, saying they're desperate for an emergency spray from the Gem County Mosquito Abatement District, but the district says it can't help.
If you ask anyone in Montour about the mosquitoes, all the buzz is the "buzz", the constant humming of mosquitoes.
"They're really bad... They hurt when they bite you," Chyenne Ponder said.
Ponder works at a local restaurant, and she and everyone else there worry about what's gone beyond just a pesky problem to fear of West Nile Virus.
"If you don't get bug spray on or fly spray on the horses, they'll get West Nile, and I'm concerned about it," Ponder said.
Already this year, a mosquito sample in neighboring Payette County has tested positive for West Nile. Mosquito Abatement Director Jason Kinley says the virus is a real concern in Montour.
"In fact last year... the one human case (in Idaho) that resulted in a death was out of the Montour area last year," Kinley said.
Kinley says he's taken dozens of complaints from the area, mostly over the phone.
"The general complaint is the mosquitoes are terrible, and in all actuality, the mosquito problem over there is substantial, and their complaints are warranted," Kinley said.
Unfortunately, Kinley says the abatement district can't help. The district only covers 20 percent of the county, mostly in the Emmett valley, where property owners pay a levy to fund the program. Kinley also says it's an insurance liability for them to spray outside the district.
In 1968, Montour and other towns opted out of the district because of agricultural concerns.
'What we were seeing back in the late 60s and early 70s was a lot of alfalfa seed production and a lot of leaf cutter bee operations. Unfortunately, at the time, with the technologies that were available at that time, mosquito control applications were detrimental to leaf cutter bee and alfalfa seed production. So those ranchers and farmers at that time opted out because of the impact the mosquito abatement district was having on their commodity production," Kinley said.
Kinley says the area now has a lot more people living there, and while many may want to join the district, it's not easy. State law has hurdles in place that make joining an existing abatement district challenging.
"Unfortunately when someone opts out of the mosquito abatement district, later on it's a little bit more difficult to annex back in. It requires a petition and a grassroots effort," Kinley said.
There are two options for people outside the district that want to get in: A petition to the district or the county commission adding the towns in. Kinley says the second option rarely happens because it's seen as forcing a levy on people without a vote.
"It's not very common to see that because we're dealing there is we're dealing with a board of county commissioners, three people, who are ultimately making a decision to levy taxes on property owners without necessarily having all the property owners' voices being heard, so potentially an issue of taxation without representation," Kinley said.
Kinley thinks the residents are going to have to get the ball rolling on a petition, if they want a change. They would need to get owners of 51 percent of the town's property value to sign a petition to turn into the district and get a vote. The people already in the district would be the ones voting to annex the towns in.
Many in Montour think if someone were to start a petition, they'd be able to quickly gather signatures as the summer goes on.
"I think everybody would end up signing it for their own safety and their animals' safety because they're just so bad," Ponder said.
Kinley says the health department has been testing the Montour area for mosquitoes, and those tests have also proven how bad the situation is out there. In one trap, they caught 2,400, says Kinley. He says they consider 200 in a trap is considered bad.
Kinley reminds people to wear bug spray, long sleeves and pants if outside. He also advises people to avoid outdoor exposure during dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.