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At meeting on rats, recognition that the multi-faceted problem persists, especially near transit hub

A community forum last night on rodent issues, hosted by Empire State Development and New York City Departments of Health and Sanitation, drew just a handful of residents, but their concerns indicated that, however welcome Forest City Ratner's offer of free heavy-duty garbage cans, rat problems in the area of the Atlantic Yards site will persist.

Notably, the street corners at and near Fourth and Atlantic avenues, heavily-used thoroughfares, overflow with garbage, which draws rats, and additional construction and project-related utility work on the streets exposes rats. A few attendees called on Council Member Steve Levin, who represents those blocks, to take action.

(Council Member Letitia James, who represents the north side of Flatbush Avenue, sent a representative, though Levin did not.)

One resident of Pacific Street between Fourth and Flatbush avenues said that "you have to walk shaking your keys" on the street at night to stave off. "Otherwise you hear people screaming" after they encounter the rodents.

She and a resident of Dean Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues both said there were severe problems on their street. Indicating the dicey relationship between homeowners and city agencies, both were reluctant to see their names published, fearing that they might be targeted for inspections, then fined if rat burrows were found.

Source of rats

City officials stressed there were multiple sources of and support for rats in the community, even as residents have put most of the blame on Forest City Ratner's major construction site.

At the Atlantic Yards project site, a state official acknowledged, the developer had not been properly disposing of trash, but had since improved performance by hiring new staff and dedicating baskets for food waste.

A recent city audit, according to a city official, determined it was "good for a construction site," with no visible food waste but still opportunities for rat harborage.

Free garbage cans

The event was held at the Pacific Street branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, at Fourth Avenue, thus at the western end of the area where residents are eligible for free garbage cans from developer Forest City Ratner.

An FCR official said that about 250 cans had been given out, with perhaps 1350 residents eligible for such cans. (A Brooklyn Paper report that 172 cans would be given out was incorrect.)

Residents can continue to pick up cans today and tomorrow and, if away, can contact the Community Liaison Office to arrange pickup at a later time.

Eligibility zone

The eligibility area does not extend north of Atlantic Avenue though, as noted, complaints from Fort Greene have been aired at meetings and via Atlantic Yards Watch. Arana Hankin, Manager, Atlantic Yards Project, for Empire State Development, however, said her agency had not received complaints from Fort Greene.

A Department of Health (DOH) official said that the agency had surveyed potential rat catchbasins from Third Avenue to Vanderbilt Avenue.

Why, asked Jon Crow, coordinator for the Brooklyn Bear's Garden at Flatbush Avenue and Pacific Street, couldn't the Forest City distribution area extend one block west to Third Avenue?

Forest City, said Hankin, could fund only a limited area. "It has to end somewhere."

It's hard to disagree with that, though it should be pointed out that the map extends south from the project site, not north, thus not marking a uniform radius.

"When we around with Rick [Simeone, of the Department of Health], he blocked off to Third [Avenue] as part of the infestation zone," Crow said.

"I'll talk with Rick," Hankin responded.

Final Garbage Can Flyer, Atlantic Yards area

Multi-faceted problem

Hankin said that a review by city officials, before the plan was announced in July, indicated that "the arena site was not being cleaned as well as it could have been," hence Forest City's plan to hire new staff and improve trash disposal. "That problem is essentially fixed," she said.

The free trash cans are part of a multi-faceted effort to educate residents and prevent rodents.

Bruno Iciano of the Department of Sanitation noted that some residents typically put plastic bags of garbage outside, leaving them vulnerable to rats chewing through.

Crow noted that former Council Member David Yassky, Levin's predecessor, had bought some 20 covered trash cans for the streets, which "helped a lot," given that "open mesh cans are smorgasbord" for rats.

"The cans we got for residents are great," he said to Hankin. "Can you chip in for more covered cans for corners?"

"The state is completely and totally broke," Hankin responded.

"Nice of you to bring the project here and run out of money," riposted Crow, an Atlantic Yards opponent.

It could be added that the city and state over time either increased subsidies available to Forest City Ratner or made concessions to encompass costs eligible for subsidy.

Hankin said that the North Flatbush Avenue BID [Business Improvement District] was purchasing a number of cans.

Crow noted that BID staffers service the overflowing cans by putting the bags outside the side of the can, which compounds the problem. "Sanitation has to do their job too."

Crow and neighbors said such cans are quickly filled by those coming from Forest City Ratner's malls, workers from the project site, and those leaving the subway.

The BID, noted one resident, does not extend its purview to corners on Fourth Avenue, where garbage cans continually overflow, with numerous visible rats.

Some residents expressed frustration with the Sanitation Department. With the new rubber cans, passers-by can open them and add new garbage, including recyclables--thus provoking Sanitation workers to deem the cans ineligible for pick-up.

DOH examination

Caroline Bragdon, of the New York City Department of Health, described the neighborhood assessments her department does. Everyone, she pointed out, has a role in rat management, including those in charge of resdents, streets, parks, and construction sites.

The latter, she said, "usually get blamed... we inspect them all the time." Such sites, "can be ratty, or not at all," depending on maintenance of the site, and the condition of the surrounding area.

She showed slides taken in last week's assessment of the Atlantic Yards site. There was no food waste at one location, but there was some potential harborage--harborage that was being removed after Forest City went back to construction site manager.

Another location showed some clutter, which could be harborage, but no food sanitation issues, which she deemed "good for a construction site."

She then showed a mesh street garbage can containing illegal household waste, and trash next to it on the sidewalk. That's "not within your control," she told residents, "but a factor" in the neighborhood rat population.

She also showed a photo of a rat burrow in a building foundation nearby, along with a broken window and garbage. "Obviously, this property owner isn't that diligent about following up."

Finding the problem

Crow said that a 2008 meeting had led to neighborhood improvements, but blamed the construction site for the recurrence, given how many underground sites had been disturbed.

Bragdon noted that infestations tend to be localized, with a rat's lifespan under a year, indicating it's difficult to pinpoint the source.

She advised ensuring that wastebaskets were closed, waste is put out as close to pickup as possible, that street litter is kept to a minimum; and that mesh baskets be replaced with solid steel.

While homeowners are required to bait for rats, using pest management professionals, DOH has done some emergency baiting, in catchbasins in the neighborhood and on public property. On residential property, she said, DOH may do one free baiting, or send property owner a letter indicating the need to take action.

She said some 15 catchbasins with signs of rat activity had been baited, from Third Avenue to Vanderbilt Avenue. That provoked questions about whether Forest City could extend the trash can offer to Third Avenue.

Rats start reproducing very quickly in warm weather, and complaints increase in every neighborhood. "By baiting now, we hope to achieve enough of a knockdown to interrupt that reproduction," Bragdon said, and that would be compounded in the winter, since rats have trouble surviving the cold.


  1. Jon Crow makes a great point. The state wouldn't be "completely and totally broke" if it hadn't thrown a "taxpayer money tsunami" at Bruce Ratner in the first place.


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