- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2001

D.C. residents and business owners had better be prepared to pay if they stand in the way of the city's plans to eradicate rats.

That was the message yesterday, as Mayor Anthony A. Williams added new details to previously announced initiatives, weaving them into a comprehensive plan to fight the city's rodent problem.

The plan attempts to curtail the rat population's growth by striking at their food supply and habitat as well as the people who aid them.

Neighborhood surveys will determine where rat infestation has become severe, and Department of Health employees will be dispatched to bait and kill the rodents.

Within the next 60 days, a contract is expected to be finalized for a survey and baiting program for rat control in the sewer system.

In addition, the Department of Health will take a hand in educating the public on proper waste management, and trash disposal will be enforced through fines.

"Rat abatement is a key component in our larger goal of having a healthy city," the mayor said.

Rats, which can be as large as 8 inches not counting the tail, carry a variety of diseases and a female rat can give birth to three to six litters of eight or nine babies a year.

Dr. Ivan Walks, director of the city's health department, said the problem had not reached epidemic proportions, describing the situation in the District as a "typical big-city problem." Dr. Walks said the greatest concentration of rats is in areas with a large number of restaurants and businesses. He cited Georgetown, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor.

"We can't have a healthy city with rats running around," Dr. Walks said.

Under the plan announced yesterday at Tryst's Coffeehouse in Adams Morgan, D.C. residents will get an initial warning for improper trash disposal and will be fined $75 for a first offense and $150 thereafter.

Offenses include leaving garbage out overnight and improper trash storage. Allowing weeds to grow more than 8 inches high or leaving boxes or crates piled outside can also garner a fine, because they provide ideal settings for rats to live.

The mayor also announced the distribution of 75,000 "supercans" in March. The 4-foot, heavy-duty plastic, rat-proof garbage cans will be provided to all D.C. residents.

But while residents will not be cited initially, restaurants and businesses formerly given a 72-hour "courtesy sanitation warning" when rat evidence was found now face a $1,000 fine on the first offense for improper waste disposal, which includes overflowing trash bins, unsealed grease barrels and trash-filled alleys. Fines double to $2,000 for a second offense in the same year.

Ted Gordon, the city health department's chief operating officer, said abandoned properties and schools owned by the District would not be spared fines.

Rodent control was among a list of top priorities during Mr. Williams' inaugural speech on Jan. 2, 1999. Shortly thereafter, he set a goal of reducing the city's rat population by half.

In April 1999, the mayor held a "rat summit," eliciting feedback from 250 community leaders, rat experts and city officials. As a result, responsibilities for rat control were consolidated into a Bureau of Rodent Control, created last October under the auspices of the Department of Health.

Despite these efforts, two years later, the estimated rat population hovers around 1 million, nearly double the human population of the city and about where it stood when the mayor took office.

Constantine Stavropoulos, owner of Tryst and president of the Adams Morgan Business Association, said the 300 members of his organization were kept well-informed of the city's plans, and he's optimistic that a partnership between government and business can win the war against rats.

Nevertheless, he expressed a note of caution, saying he hoped the target "remains the rats and doesn't become the businesses."

"It's easy to say we won the war because of the amount of fines they handed out," he said.

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