Union residents claim rats are increasing, spreading

Huguenot Avenue resident Jeffrey Monge shows the size of a rat he says he found in his backyard, which he described as a foot long, to the Union Township Committee at its Aug. 27 meeting.

UNION, N.J. — Residents renewed and increased their calls for action at the Union Township Committee’s Aug. 27 meeting regarding what they called a worsening rat problem despite the contention from municipal officials that the situation was little changed from a year ago.

Township resident Jeffrey Monge told the committee members he has been hearing about the issue from “seniors to folks that don’t let their kids outside because of the rats. And it’s not just in our neighborhood, but throughout the town.

“What would be great, and I don’t understand why we wouldn’t do this, is to try to have the township lead and try to create some type of a comprehensive plan that asks the residents as well as the town to be able to try to execute on this plan.”

He stated that he would like to form an ad hoc committee to investigate this problem.
Others reiterated Monge’s claim, saying the rat problem is larger than just a nuisance, and that it is a widespread issue that has been occurring for more than a year.

They expressed concern that the rats present a public health risk, and that they damage wires and homes.

However, the health department’s monthly report to the mayor and township committee show that reports of a rat presence are not unusually high compared to 2018, and the health department says that claims of rat sightings are investigated quickly.

“Since the last Township Committee meeting on July 23, the department did not receive any new rat complaints in the area of Lum, Huguenot, Broadwell, Sherwood and Townley,” the most recent report said. “Private extermination and preventative baiting of the storm sewer catch basins by the township along with residents appear to be working.

“Overall, rodent complaints received in August throughout the township are in line with previous years. Eleven new complaints came in for August 2019, compared to nine in 2018.”

Township of Union administrator Ron Manzella responded to the residents by advising them that they could take steps to reduce sightings.

“The simple thing that we want to do is to create an atmosphere where it doesn’t attract rodents … and that’s through baiting and sanitation,” he said.

He told LocalSource in an interview that that any problem with rats is not as common as believed.
“There was one call we got in August,” Manzella said. “We bait and trap the lines. We bait and kill the rats. Rats historically go to food sources. That’s why we recommend that people go to food sources in metal containers. It’s not widespread.

“Last August, we had one call specifically. There were allegations that there were sightings. Eleven calls in August and eight calls in August of 2018. It’s not a usual high amount of sightings.”
Township health officer Marconi Gapas added that not all residents report all sightings to municipal officials.

“We track the number of rodent calls in general, whether that’s rodent calls, mice or rats or whatever,” he said in an interview. “Unless those residents call us directly, we don’t know about it. And then when we do hear about it, we do investigate quite quickly. … Rats are very destructive. They gnaw habitually. They could do damage to wires and homes.”

Regardless, resident Rodney Martin expressed frustration as the township’s response, saying there are “a lot of complaints about rodents. So, we’ve got to get a comprehensive plan somehow, someway.”
Martin said he has experienced this problem in his own home. He began noticing rats around his house a year ago and became especially concerned when his children saw rats.

He indicated the source of the rats may be new development, which he called a necessary evil, that also provides more habitats for rodents.

“It’s an uncomfortable conversation, and we can’t just ignore it,” he said. “We feel that the township is not taking it seriously enough. The township wants to see the problem go away.”