Alexandria Old Town is animal friendly. Dogs are a common sight up and down King
Street. Cats regularly patrol the alleyways. And as construction is underway at local sites, some residents have reported seeing some new guests: rats.
Laraine Healy was on her back patio when she saw a large rat. Her neighbor had seen one earlier and believed they were the same one, though Healy joked she didn’t stay to get the rat’s ID. Healy called the city government and an inspector was sent out to the site to bait the sewers. In her 30 years living in Old Town, Healy has never seen a rat on their property before and says she believes it’s connected to nearby construction.
“There’s a lot of construction in the area, down where the Giant and the ABC Store was and at the end of Powhatan Street,” said Healy, “That disrupts their
Yvonne Weight Callahan, president of the Old Town Civic Association, said rats aren’t as common as some might think in Old Town but that they have become more noticeable over the last few years as more construction has occurred on the Waterfront.
“It’s not a weekly or even a monthly experience, but when there’s a disturbance you see more of them,” said Callahan, who blamed poor rodent control measures for allowing the spread.
Craig Fifer, director of communications for the City of Alexandria, said that during active demolition or construction, city inspectors are on-site several times a week and check for rodent control. After an initial rodent control plan is implemented, Fifer said the inspections tend to focus more on issues of safety, fire prevention and maintenance issues. During the less active phases such as archaeology, these inspections are more periodic. But stones are still being upturned and digging is still going on during the archaeology phases, and Callahan says the city still continues to see a more prominent rat population in these times.
The problem is widespread enough that residents near other construction sites are expressing concerns.
“We’re about to disturb a whole bunch of rat nests,” said Bridget Ponnetta at a meeting for the expansion of Alfred Street Baptist Church. “Do we have to be scared to open our doors at night? The rats we have here now are a problem. They don’t hide, they come out with you when you open the door.”
According to the city code for construction requirements, rats pose a public health risk as disease carriers and present a threat to property. Rats continually gnaw to keep their growing teeth in check and to burrow in search of food. There are several signs that a house is infested with rats, the most obvious being the presence of live or dead rats. Nests built of paper or cloth, gnawing marks, droppings and burrowing tunnels can all indicate that rats are in a home and can also provide information about the size of the infestation. Rat urine also gives off a distinct odor that can be used to detect their presence, especially in large quantities.
There are three types of rodent prominent in Alexandria. The smallest is the house mouse; slender bodied with large ears. The two rats are the roof rat and the Norway rat. The roof rat is smaller and sleeker, but with larger ears. Roof rats tend to live at higher elevations. The largest, and according to some residents the most frightening to encounter in a dark alley at night, is the Norway rat. Norway rats weigh between 12 to 16 ounces and tend to be more stronger and more aggressive than its roof-dwelling cousin.
The city has a number of requirements for construction sites to mitigate the damage caused by disturbing rat nests. Prior to being issued a building, demolition, or land disturbance permit, applicants must provide proof of baiting or provide a baiting plan to code enforcement. Seven days before construction begins, above ground bait boxes must be placed and maintained around the perimeter of the site. Failure to follow rodent control guidelines can result in a stop work order and elevated permit costs.
There are a number of measures a homeowner can take to prevent a rat infestation from taking hold in their home. Food can be a primary attractor for rats to a home, so removing that source is a key component for prevention. The city website recommends keeping all garbage, food or feed in sealed containers. Clearing away outside debris or vegetation can also keep them from finding safe harborage. The website recommends at least three feet of cleared space around each house, as well as the removal of any wood piles or overhanging branches rats might use to travel into a house. Sources of water are also necessary for a rat infestation to take hold, so their elimination makes that less likely.
Rats can gain entry to a house via doors, windows, cracked concrete or screens. Roof vents, eaves, attic vents, overhangs and roof top air conditioning units also provided spaces for rats to slip inside. Downspouts can provide an easy entrance for a rat as well, some homeowners should attach a screen to both ends.
If rats have managed to get inside the home, bait and glue traps can help catch and control the rodent population. According to Fifer, complaints about ineffective rodent control at construction sites can be filed through the city’s Call.Click.Connect system.