USDA of­fi­cials ed­u­cate pub­lic about on­go­ing ra­bies vac­cine drops

The Catoosa County News - - EDITORIALS & OPINION - By Adam Cook Acook@catoosanews.com

The Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture are try­ing to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the ra­bies vac­cine drops that be­gan mid-oc­to­ber.

The drops, which in­volved dis­pens­ing baited ra­bies vac­cines into wooded ar­eas, took place the week of Oct. 12, but of­fi­cials are try­ing to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on what the ef­fort in­volves, and what to do if they en­counter the vac­cine.

The bait drop fo­cused on the ru­ral ar­eas of Ca­toosa, Walker, Dade, Chat­tooga, and Mur­ray coun­ties.

On Oct. 2, USDA Wildlife Ser­vices Ra­bies Bi­ol­o­gist Day­mond Hughes gave a pre­sen­ta­tion on the mat­ter dur­ing the Ca­toosa County Board of Com­mis­sioner’s meeting. He cov­ered not only the baits be­ing dropped, but also how the pub­lic should han­dle sit­u­a­tions of ra­bid an­i­mals, road kill, and other wildlife is­sues.

“Our mis­sion is to be lead­ers and pro­vide fed­eral lead­er­ship in man­ag­ing hu­man/ wildlife con­flicts,” Hughes said. “We’re part of the Na­tional Man­age­ment Ra­bies Pro­gram, and as an agency, we pro­vide tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance free to home­own­ers, land own­ers, com­pa­nies, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties re­gard­ing prob­lems with wildlife. Some­times they can an­swer ques­tions over the phone or go out for site vis­its.”

Hughes says his agency has been work­ing with the Ca­toosa County An­i­mal Shel­ter in gather­ing sam­ples from an­i­mals to test for ra­bies, with a spe­cific fo­cus on rac­coons.

“Our goal is to stop the western move­ment of ra­bies,” Hughes said.

Hughes ex­plained that the baits were dropped from planes and he­li­copters fly­ing about 500 feet above the ground.

The process, which is done an­nu­ally, in­cluded 2.5 mil­lion baits be­ing dropped in the state of Ge­or­gia in 2017.

Hughes says that in ad­di­tion to the bait­ing, he trav­els around tak­ing sam­ples from an­i­mals try­ing to gauge if and how many ra­bies cases might be in the area.

“I spend a good bit of my time driv­ing up and down the road look­ing for road kills fresh enough that I can take a sam­ple off of them,” Hughes ex­plained. “If you see any­body on the side of the road in a pickup truck throw­ing a coon or some­thing in the back of a truck, it might be me. I’m out there try­ing to find any pos­si­ble pos­i­tives, but neg­a­tives tell us just as much. If I’m pick­ing up a num­ber of an­i­mals in the county and all of them are neg­a­tive, then that’s a good sign that we’ve kind of got ra­bies on the run, or that it’s out of the county.”

The USDA and GDNR are try­ing to ed­u­cate the pub­lic so they’ll know the vac­cines are out there, and to ease any worry about the baits po­ten­tially harm­ing pets that hap­pen to find them.

“The baits were tested on 20-30 dif­fer­ent species,” Hughes said. “They’re coated with a fish­meal as an at­trac­tant. Pets could get sick if they ate a lot of it, just like we would if we ate a lot of some­thing we’re not used to, but the vac­cine it­self won’t hurt the an­i­mals. They did ex­ten­sive test­ing, it’s safe.”

Hughes en­cour­aged res­i­dents to con­tact him via email at day­mond.w.hughes@usda. gov if they have any wildlife is­sues, espe­cially road kill, due to how valu­able the in­for­ma­tion can be to his re­search.

“If I’m avail­able, I’ll gladly go pick the an­i­mal up be­cause it’s a great help to me,” Hughes said.

Fort Oglethorpe of­fi­cials re­cently ap­proved a de­duc­tive change or­der for the first phase of its U. S. High­way 41 sewer project near the new Food City de­vel­op­ment, but are de­layed in in­stalling the fi­nal pip­ing.

Dur­ing the Fort Oglethorpe City Coun­cil meeting on Oct. 8, Pub­lic Util­i­ties Di­rec­tor Phil Parker ex­plained the change or­der and the rea­son be­hind the pip­ing de­lay.

“This phase one change or­der is from Brown Broth­ers Con­struc­tion,” Parker said. “Essen­tially this is clos­ing out the project. It has reached sub­stan­tial com­ple­tion, we’ve done the fi­nal walk­throughs, and af­ter the tally and fi­nal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of all the num­bers, this is a re­duc­tion in the con­tract price of $29.42.”

The nearly $1.4 mil­lion project was awarded to Brown Broth­ers Con­struc­tion last Oc­to­ber.

While any re­duc­tion in cost, even a $ 30 one is good, of­fi­cials are try­ing to save more funds by not jump­ing the gun amidst de­lays.

“The de­vel­oper is try­ing to de­ter­mine the fi­nal grades of the roads out there,” Parker ex­plained. “That has left us with 255 feet of force main that we can­not in­stall un­til they make fi­nal grade to where the road is go­ing to be.”

Parker said it would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to move for­ward with the pip­ing if grad­ing changes would al­ter pip­ing lay­out.

“What we don’t want to do is put in that 250 feet of pipe and then have to come back around and move it be­cause they’ve cut the grade down on the road more,” Parker said. “Un­til they fig­ure out their grade, we’re sit­ting on 250 feet of pipe to in­stall, which will essen­tially com­plete the project.”

Parker says the pipe will go in the ground pretty quick and said the grad­ing plans are tied to the traf­fic sig­nal be­ing put in.

“Our en­gi­neers have been push­ing for a fi­nal grad­ing plan, but we’re wait­ing on that in­for­ma­tion from them.”

Per the agree­ment of the de­vel­op­ment, Food City is the one re­spon­si­ble for the road and the grad­ing.

Parker said, and the coun­cil sup­ported, stand­ing pat un­til the de­tails are worked out.

“We need to know what the grade of the road is go­ing to be so we know how deep to put the force main,” Parker said. “There’s no point in us putting it in and then hav­ing to dig it out and move it. Essen­tially, that would just cost us more money.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture Ra­bies Bi­ol­o­gist Day­mond Hughes ed­u­cates the pub­lic on ra­bies vac­cine drops dur­ing the Oct. 2 Ca­toosa County Board of Com­mis­sioner’s meeting.

/ Adam Cook

Fort Oglethorpe Pub­lic Util­i­ties Di­rec­tor Phil Parker dis­cusses the first phase of the U.S. High­way 41 sewer project dur­ing a re­cent Fort Oglethorpe City Coun­cil meeting.

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