Surveyor hopefuls squabble over skeeters
By Rich Bird Post-Tribune correspondent August 6, 2012 3:36PM
Eric Krieg, candidate for Lake County surveyor. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 8, 2012 6:13AM
CROWN POINT — Days after Lake County health officials confirmed their first positive tests for the mosquito-borne West Nile virus in Griffith, the news has become a breeding ground for the latest skirmish between candidates for county surveyor.
Republican challenger Eric Krieg has issued a release — the latest in a series of seemingly weekly attacks on Democrat George Van Til — accusing the incumbent of failing to clean ditches where the disease-carrying culex mosquito may lay eggs.
Krieg, an engineer from Munster, contends West Nile is a symptom of poor drainage maintenance in the area of South Broad Street in unincorporated Griffith and St. John Township.
He has posted a link on his Facebook page, “Eric Krieg for Lake County Surveyor (Indiana),” which claims to document a long series of attempts by an area resident to get the ditches cleaned.
“Anyone who drives along South Broad Street knows that it is generally a wet area,” Krieg wrote. “One look at the ditches along the road will make you wonder when was the last time they were cleaned. The Drainage Board is supposed to have money to address just this kind of issue. One would hope that West Nile in the area would put this project ahead of others.”
Van Til responded Monday, accusing Krieg of playing fast and loose with facts in his recent string of attacks.
“The last ones were just stupid, political rhetoric, but this is unfair to the people of our area,” Van Til said.
Using a large aerial photograph of the area, Van Til quickly counted out dozens of natural and man-made ponds, as well as large swaths of undeveloped wooded area. In the same photos he pointed to areas of standing water adjacent to local roads, which he said are the responsibility of the highway department, as opposed to the regulated drains that his office deals with.
“Even if county highway totally and forever eliminated the water along Broad Street … there’s so much area here that is designed to be standing water. To connect mosquitoes with drainage issues in this area is totally absurd,” Van Til said. “If every single area of drainage along Broad Street was put in into culverts, there would still be a threat of West Nile. Eric Krieg’s backyard could be the next area where West Nile could come from just as easily as it could be from here.”
According to Nick Doffin, the administrator of the Lake County Health Department who runs the county’s vector control program, the surveyor’s office has actually helped the county to control the spread of diseases like West Nile. On Monday he said the surveyor’s geographic information systems division has improved the Health Department’s tracking system by opening up access to current, interactive maps.
“It modernized our mapping system,” Doffin said. “Before, we were using 15-year-old aerial photos. Now the maps are current and the resolution is much better, so you can see more. It’s just like driving without a current road map. You have to have what’s current.”
Doffin said state inspectors have previously found mosquitoes that have tested positive for the West Nile virus, specifically in Hammond, but that last week’s positive results were the first ever produced by mosquitoes caught in county traps.
He said the culex mosquito is most likely to breed in man-made structures where water accumulates, such as tires, planters and clogged gutters. He said the other necessary component is some type of organic contaminant. He said clogged septic systems are a prime breeding ground.
Meanwhile, Krieg has promised to rank all possible drainage projects in the county based on “cost, how many people they affect and the consequence of their not being done.”
“With this ranking system, we will take the politics out of drainage projects,” he said, “We will publish the ranking criteria, so everyone is on the same page. They will be objective standards, not subject to the political winds of the day. If new projects are proposed, they can be compared to the pre-existing criteria, and compared to existing projects, so that the problem of the day doesn’t take precedence over longstanding problems with higher impact.”
Van Til said that in a perfect world he would need access to hundreds of millions of dollars to address all of the county’s drainage concerns, and that his office does the best with what it has.
“We do it based on data on the ground,” he said, “We do it based on the ability of funding sources, and we do it based on what intergovernmental cooperation projects we can develop. We do it based on changing weather conditions and historical data.
“We don‘t do it based on the political whims or the political opportunism of Eric Krieg.”