Waste “digesters” at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In a breaking point in a standoff over flies between Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the governor’s office now says it will pay to spray a biological insecticide in “hot spots” of the Back River to fight off pesky midge swarms.

Hogan’s office today announced $330,000 in funding to spray areas of the river separating Dundalk and Essex from this spring through early fall. In the announcement, Hogan took a shot at Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s administration, which in October 2016 refused to go halves on $1.3 million worth of spraying with the state because they felt it would be ineffective and a waste of taxpayer money.

“The county really has the responsibility to address this problem but has continually refused to do anything about it, and has ignored the pleas of Baltimore County citizens,” said Governor Hogan in a statement. “Despite the county’s refusal to act, we have decided to move forward anyway in order to provide a measure of relief for the area prior to the next boating and tourism season, and we hope that the county will see fit to join in and add county funding as well.”

For several years, Baltimore County residents and owners of marinas and restaurants near the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant have complained about swarms of midges — tiny, two-winged flies that don’t bite (this species, at leasT) but prefer to travel in annoying hordes. The Maryland Department of the Environment concluded in a 2014 study that nutrient pollution from the waste treatment plant is the likely cause of the infestation.

The plant, located in Dundalk, treats hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater from Baltimore City and County each day. It’s currently being upgraded to reduce a 10-mile-long backup that causes Baltimore’s regular sewage spills into the Jones and Gwynns Falls. Gov. Hogan’s office said the renovations should be done by 2018, but until then, the midge swarms will remain if unaddressed.

The State of Maryland plans to spend the money targeting midges with the natural pesticide Bti in concentrated areas. County officials responded today by saying the focus should remain on the plant upgrades and removal of riverbed sediment tainted by pollution.

“My staff and I have researched the science and feel that nutrient reduction at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant and removal of the pollutant-laden bottom sediment in the upper Back River is the only real answer to stop midge larvae,” said Vince Gardina, director of the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, in a statement.

Gardina said spraying will have a minimal effect on the midge population and labelled it a “a Band-Aid approach which will result in a waste of taxpayer funding.” He also said it “ignores science and is like spraying a can of Raid on the surface of the water.”

The governor’s office is providing funding for at least one of the proposals touted by Gardina, with an additional $4 million announced for nutrient removal at the treatment plant. As for the spraying, officials from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment will determine which test areas to target this spring.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...