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Upper West Side Leaders Host 'Rat Academy' to Combat Rodents

By Emily Frost | July 20, 2012 1:47pm
Washington Heights is one of the most rat-infested neighborhoods in the borough, according to the city Department of Health.
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DNAinfo/Michael Miguez

UPPER WEST SIDE — The rats are back with vengeance on the Upper West Side — but residents are schooling themselves on how to keep them at bay.

A series of "rat academy" classes kicking off around the city this summer are aimed at banishing the pests from Gotham's streets once and for all.

"The rat academy is not for the rodents, it's for us," Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told an agitated audience Wednesday night at a town hall meeting.

Stringer, working in connection with City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, vowed to put increasing pressure on the Department of Health to address the rodent problem.

"We're going to go right to the DOH with every complaint," he said.

The Upper West Side's rat academy session, scheduled for Aug. 15 at 2 p.m. at Community Board 7 at 250 W. 87th St., will educate building owners, management and staff on new rat control techniques and best practices, said Jesse Bodine of Brewer's office.

There have also been other sessions scheduled around the city, including one earlier this month in Washington Heights.

Both Stringer and Brewer have long complained about having significant rodent problems in the neighborhood. In 2011, Stringer protested the city's decision to cut 63 pest control workers to save $1.5 million in his former neighborhood of Washington Heights, which has the worst rat infestation levels in the city, Department of Health stats indicate.

Peter Brandt, who lives on Upper West Side with his wife, described his disgust at finding rats after moving to the area from Greenwich Village.

On a recent after dinner stroll in the neighborhood, he was shocked by the number of rats they encountered. Brandt had his camera with him and snapped dozens of photos of rats that did not appear frightened by him or his flashbulb. 

"There are little creatures underneath the benches [along Broadway] — everywhere there are hordes of big, juicy rats!" he told Stringer.

Department of Sanitation representative Ignazio Terranova referred complaints to his colleagues at the Department of Health.

"Sanitation has nothing to do with rats. It's the DOH that does the rat situation," said Terranova.

Reps from the DOH were not present at the meeting. The Department of Health did not respond to calls for comment.

The DOH released data in March of this year finding that in 2011 there were 4,454 inspections done on the Upper West Side and 217 infestations found — an infestation rate of 4.8 percent, as compared to Murray Hill and Gramercy where the fewest rats were reported in the city, at an infestation rate of 0.3 percent. 

Councilmember Brewer said she has been going block by block educating people about how to deal with rat infestations, checking on sites and reporting them to the DOH. 

But that may be for naught, argued Robert Josman, who said he believed the rat problem stemmed from the city not putting out rat poison because of the recent stream of red-tailed hawk deaths attributed to the chemicals.

In April, a Parks Department spokesman confirmed that the agency is no longer using rat poison in Riverside Park or Central Park. In April of 2011, the Parks Department provoked outrage among wildlife lovers who noticed signs warning of rat poison posted next to the hawks' nest in Riverside Park. 

The department uses an integrated approach that "includes eliminating food sources and garbage, increasing trash pickups and the use of mechanical traps," a parks rep said.

In Riverside Park, the spokesman said, it is especially difficult to limit pests' access to food given the proximity of apartment buildings. 

The DOH offers an online map where city residents can locate where complaints and inspections were made and the date of the last inspection and whether the location passed.