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Staying vigilant: City, community make some progress with rat problem

October 21, 2016 GMT

When it comes to the infamous Ellensburg “rat problem,” resident David Kaufman wants to give his community a pat on the back.

Kaufman, a retiree, has been involved in addressing the rat issue not only with the city of Ellensburg, but through an email newsletter.

“Everyone has become more vigilant,” Kaufman said. “Last year’s episode was so bad. The city came through on its part. … It’s our job now to do our share in the community to keep our places clean and keep those garden waste piles clear or closed up.”

After a few months of public comment, the city passed an ordinance in July that changed some city code to address the rodent issue. Updates included a chapter about garbage, solid waste and mandatory removal and disposal of garbage and refuse.

If garbage accumulates on a property and the tenant fails to take away the garbage or put it in required covered containers, the city can employ a contractor to collect and remove the trash at the expense of the tenant. Garbage carts or garbage containers must be designed to be rodent, bird and insect resistant.

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Compulsory garbage pickup is not mandatory, and people may continue to haul their own garbage.

The city also proceeded with budget preparations to include an additional full-time code enforcement officer in 2017.

“It took a few months and there was some public input but I thought that part went really, really well,” Kaufman said. “It also provided at least a means for the code enforcement folks through the police department to cruise the alleys, check to see the trash is put in the bins like it’s supposed to be, extra litter around, try to police the areas where people might keep garden waste and so forth.”

Winter is coming

With the colder weather arriving, the Kittitas County Public Health Department is making the same recommendations it has in recent years in regards to keeping rats at bay. The department advises residents to seal up holes or gaps in homes, trap rodents using appropriate traps, and clean up any sources of food or water along with items that might provide shelter for the animals looking to escape the cold, according to a 2015 press release. This includes rotten tree fruit, animal feces and loose garbage.

“I haven’t seen anything right near the neighborhood,” Kaufman said of the recent months. “We have a lot of fruit trees and last year all our grapes got eaten. We weren’t sure the rats did it, but nevertheless they were all gone. This year there were no problems with the fruit. Every once in a while we’ll see a piece of fruit with what looks like a gouge out of it, maybe a rat tooth might have done, then we look for rat droppings but we don’t see any of that.”

Kittitas County Public Health Department Public Information Officer Kasey Knutson said it’s definitely been quieter this year, and Environmental Health Supervisor Holly Myers agreed.

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“We have not had large numbers of rat complaints this year,” Myers said in an email. “We are still providing education to callers on clean up and prevention. We are also responding to complaints of garbage in neighboring properties using rodent prevention as a driving force for clean up.”

Deep fried

Although the cleaner streets of Ellensburg have kept the rodents at bay, the colder weather is still leading to the annual tradition of transformer chewing, which is unfortunate for rats and city power customers alike.

On Sept. 27 a portion of Ellensburg lost power in the early morning when a rat chewed through a transformer fuse. As this is a seasonal occurrence, and a familiar one at that, city crews had power back up in 45 minutes.

“When we get the call outs and our crews respond, power is restored in less than an hour,” Communications and Government Relations Officer Margaret Reich said. “So I guess that’s the good news side of it. We know what to do and we get out there and fix it right away.”