During their Wednesday evening meeting, the Portland City Council heard public comment from several people calling on the city to stop poisoning the rats which have infested Harbor View Memorial Park.
Harbor View Park, which lies below the Portland side of the Casco Bay Bridge, was the site of the city’s largest homeless encampment until it was cleared out by the city on Jan. 2.
In the months leading up to the sweep of the Harbor View encampment, Portland city officials expressed their concerns over the public health and safety risks posed by the encampment.
Portland Parks, Recreation and Facilities Management Director Ethan Hipple said at a November Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee meeting that “There were a lot of rats at that site [Harbor View], I would see rats every time I’d go there — so definitely not good living conditions for anybody staying there or the neighborhood.”
Also in November, the Maine Center for Disease Control confirmed an outbreak of Hepatitis A which was spreading through Portland’s homeless encampments.
Elise Smorczewski, who identified herself as a “master naturalist” for the State of Maine, told the City Council during public comment that the type of poison being used against the rats, bromadiolone, poses serious dangers to the surrounding environment and wildlife.
“Bromadiolone is a long-acting anticoagulant poison that causes delayed onset catastrophic internal bleeding,” Smorczewski said. “This poison has demonstrated effects of secondary poisoning of wildlife, especially in important predators that help keep wild rat populations in check.”
Smorczewski said that the secondary poisoning of predators will lead to a “bigger rat problem in the future.”
The naturalist also stated that the rats in Harbor View Park are not wild rats, but are varieties of domesticated rats, such as Siamese and hairless rats, that “can only be occurring after many generations of selective breeding.”
“This is a very inhumane way to treat a domestic animal, and it is also bad for our ecosystem,” Smorczewski told the City Council.
Making a similar claim, an Arundel resident told the City Council that the designation of the rats in Harbor View Park as wild rats rather than domesticated rats had cut off resources to volunteers who are trying to get the rats veterinary care.
“I believe that the actions of the state veterinarian in declaring that these rats are wild has caused more harm than good, it has crippled efforts of volunteers to help these rats,” the Arundel resident said.
He added that the designation of the rats as wild has made it so that volunteers could not bring the rats “to [their] standard veterinarians to receive medical care and advice.”
Arundel is roughly 25 miles away from Portland City Hall.
Olivia Wilcox-Ames, a Portland resident who told the Council she is the owner of two domestic rats and is one of the volunteers who has been attempting to care for the Harbor View rats, also spoke to the environmental dangers of the rodenticide.
“These poisons are so effective to our environment,” Wilcox-Ames said. “We are right by the water, we have people’s homes in that neighborhood, indoor, outdoor cats, anybody that can get their hands on these rats – the animals don’t know how to deal with it.”
Wilcox-Ames told the City Council that she is “on [her] phone constantly trying to check the status of these rats.”
“We want to help these rats, these are not wild rats, the behaviors are drastically different, the markings are drastically different,” she said.
Wilcox-Ames concluded her public comment by urging the Council to “please, think of the rats.”
Following public comment, City Councilor Roberto Rodriguez asked Portland City Manager Danielle West if the Council could be provided with a memo on the city’s approach to the rats.
West told the Council that the city has been working with a licensed contractor who uses a variety of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-complaint methods to address the rat issue.
“We don’t specifically know if [the rats] are domesticated or wild,” West said. “We are under the understanding working with this person that these [rats] are mostly wild, but we’re trying to get more information on that.”
The City Manager added that she has asked the contractor to use other pest control methods that do not rely on poison, and that the city expects their work on the rat problem to be concluded within the next week or two.
A GoFundMe fundraiser to “save the domestic rats” in Harbor View Park has collected over $1,400 out of a $3,000 goal as of Thursday morning.
The GoFundMe organizer Maria Zanellato states that the money raised will go to “adequate care, transportation costs, supplies and media coverage, medical and legal counsel and more,” and that surplus funds will “go towards the care of future rats” or be donated to a rescue.