IVINGSTON – The Livingston Parish Council voted 7-2 on Thursday night to form a Mosquito Abatement District.
The approval came after a Holden resident told the council how spraying from the now defunct first Mosquito Abatement District nearly killed her.
Council Chairman Tracy Girlinghouse and other councilmen assured Michelle Gibbs that the purpose of the district is so its board of commissioners – the Parish Council – can collect information about what such as a district would need to do, or know.
Voting to form the abatement district were councilmen Girlinghouse, R.C. “Bubba” Harris, Garry Talbert, Maurice “Scooter” Kean, Jeff Ard, Jeff Averett and Tab Lobell.
Councilmen John Wascom and Shane Mack voted no.
Gibbs, who came to the podium in a wheelchair, said she drove a school bus for 14 years, but had to “medically retire due to spraying from abatement.”
“Do any one of you know the chemical sprayed?,” she asked.
Gibbs said it was organic phosphate, a version of it is known as Agent Orange.
Agent Orange was used during the Vietnam War to clear jungle areas, but Vietnamese civilians and U.S. soldier exposed to it later developed tumors and other illnesses.
“I was outside when they aerial-sprayed the last time,” Gibbs said. “Me and my body, if I’m reinfected it will kill me. I can’t be within miles of it. “
“It took an infectious disease doctor to find out what was killing me,” Gibbs said. “I am disabled for rest of my life, I was 43; it could happen to anyone.”
“The board is not to bring back abatement but to get educated,” Girlinghouse said. “I’m not really for bringing it back. Voters said twice they didn’t want it.
“I want to open a dialogue,” he said. “I want to make it clear to the public, we’re not bringing back abatement, we’re not asking the public to vote on abatement.
“We’re just forming a board to be educated about how abatement is done today. I don’t imagine it has changed much but it might have.”
“They try to say they dilute it down enough,” Gibbs said about the chemicals used. “Take a bottle of Clorox and dilute it down and over time give it to your child. If you continually give it to someone, it will harm them.
“It killed all my farm animals,” she said, including 84 chickens. “Farm animals all around us died.
“These chemicals are not supposed to be sprayed on rural areas, over waterways or animals,” she said.
“My husband was told to his face by a Department of Agriculture guy and one of your mosquito abatement people, if one person died and they saved three people, they did their job.
“What if that one person was one of your children or grandchildren? Would you want one of your grandchildren playing in the street when that truck sprayed those chemicals?
“Before you bring this back just to please voters in your district, think of the chemicals y’all are going to use,” she said.
Councilman Keen said the same aerial spraying “bombarded my yard.”
“I lost 200 chickens on Walker North (Road),” he said.
Keen said the council will look closely at the abatement district.
“If we find something we don’t like, we will say no,” he said. “We will be able to tell, if it is not run properly, on a decent budget and addresses all of our concerns, we won’t go forward.”
Wascom disagreed with that view.
“If you want to get information, you can gather information before we establish a board,” he said.
“Get it and bring it to the governing authority, us. There are a lot of questions to be answered. People voted no twice against this.
“If you keep moving forward, it will be here before you know it,” Wascom said.
“I had every side effect to the chemical except death,” Gibbs told the council. “It almost put a pacemaker in me.”
“I am more on your side that you realize,” Girlinghouse said, “but I do want to know. I have in my mind it hasn’t changed that much. That is all the board is: opening dialogue.”
“I want to sit in a room and have it explained to me by scientists what is different. I’m not sure it works that well,” he said.
Being educated about mosquito abatement is important, Mack said.
“I want people who I represent to know I am not in favor of any new tax or new fee to bring this back,” Mack said. “The board is formed to do research and to educate ourselves and ask if we could do it safely.”
“This is the reason why I cautioned this board about moving too fast, Wascom said.
The councilman read Section 5 of the ordinance creating the abatement district, which described how the district could fund itself.
“You’re giving a lot of authority to a mosquito abatement board,” Wascom said. “I ask we go slow on this. Make no mistake, if you go forward with this board, you are moving forward with mosquito abatement.”
Talbert said the board would meet regularly to allow the public to attend and see what is being done.
The ordinance says the board of commissioners would meet the second Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m.
“They will post it so people have the opportunity to come and voice their opinion. The whole purpose is to give people the opportunity to voice their opinion,” he said.
“I will be at every meeting,” Gibbs said.
“If you want to get educated in a public manner, you need to vote for his board,” Girlinghouse said.
Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.