AUGUSTA — Bedbugs are still a nuisance in Augusta, despite efforts to fight the pests after a massive infestation was reported in two boarding houses in May.

Bedbugs, or evidence of them, have been detected at three city buildings in the months since. The latest incident was the discovery a couple of weeks ago of a bedbug inside a recently returned DVD case at Lithgow Public Library.

Leif Dahlin, community services director for the city, said a bedbug-detecting dog was brought into the library and found no others. He said the library is now checked monthly by the dog, as are other city properties including the Augusta City Center, Augusta Civic Center and Buker Community Center.

As recently as two weeks ago, Dahlin said, a trained dog and its handler did not find bedbugs in any city building, other than in a sealed-off space previously occupied by the Augusta Boys and Girls Club for Teens at Buker Community Center. In September, the club was forced to move to a different part of the city-owned community center.

Dahlin said the city has consulted with pest experts to remove any remaining bedbugs from the lone small room on the lower floor of the center. He anticipates that the club should be able to move back to its former location in January or February.

Elizabeth Pohl, Lithgow library director, said bedbugs can be a problem anywhere, even at five-star hotels.

“Anywhere the public is quite a bit, there may be a problem with them,” she said. “The best thing we can do is try not to judge and be good protectors of our surroundings. We’re committed to being proactive.”

Pohl said library protocol when a bedbug is found in a returned item is to contact the borrower. The borrower is then required to provide some form of certification, such as confirmation by a landlord or pest control expert, that their residence is bedbug-free before they’ll be allowed to borrow items from the library again.

“That may sound harsh, but we just can’t take the chance,” Pohl said. “We call the person and try to be compassionate and caring, and let them know we discovered a problem.”

The blood-sucking bugs came to the attention of city officials in May after an infestation of bedbugs was discovered at boarding houses at 382 and 384 Water St.

Robert Overton, a city code enforcement officer, and tenants of the buildings said they saw bugs and signs of them in apartments and in common areas such as hallways and bathrooms.

Overton said the owner of the company that owns the Water Street buildings, River City Realty, and its property manager have been cooperative in getting the buildings treated by pest control experts. But he has yet to receive proof from owner Larry Fleury that the buildings have been cleared of the bugs, which often require multiple treatments with pesticides.

The infestation prompted city officials, with input from pest experts and stakeholders including landlords, to write an ordinance giving the city the authority to require landlords to bring in pest management professionals to exterminate bedbugs. It also requires tenants to notify their landlords if they know or suspect there is an infestation, and it prohibits them from trying to treat the infestation themselves, which experts said can make it worse.

Overton said the ordinance raised awareness of the issue among property owners and prompted many of them to respond to tenant concerns about bedbugs more promptly.

“With that infestation, it was just unbelievable how many bugs there were,” Overton said. “Since then we’ve had less difficulty in getting parties involved to do what they need to do. But I’m still receiving complaints on a weekly basis. So they’re still out there.”

In July, bedbugs were discovered in the city’s General Assistance office on the first floor at Augusta City Center, prompting officials to move those services to a vacant spot upstairs. They were later detected elsewhere in the downstairs suite of offices where the first bug was found, so that area was sealed off and treated.

By mid-August, that area of the city center was cleared of bedbugs. Renovations were done to prevent the return of bedbugs. Staff moved back into the space in October.

“We’ve done our best to eliminate any environment where they can harbor and live,” Dahlin said.

City officials also no longer accept donations of clothing at the city center.

 


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