The city of Braham will soon be using a commercial drone to help combat Minnesota’s “unofficial” state bird, the mosquito.

During the Braham City Council meeting May 5, the council approved the purchase of a commercial drone, including all the necessary training, installation costs and related equipment, at a cost of $21,493 from Maverick Drone Systems out of Savage.

City Administrator Angela Grafstrom explained she’s been researching the use of drones to help with mosquito control. She said she’s talked with Public Information Officer Martin McConnell with the Ascension Parish Government out of St. Gonzales, Louisiana, who has used a drone for about two years for mosquito control.

“They use it during the day for primarily larvae control and still use a truck sprayer and backpacks at dusk to kill mosquitoes,” Grafstrom said. “They have had a significant reduction in mosquitoes. Since they started using the drone with larvicide, they have not had one mosquito test positive for Zika, West Nile or dengue. They work regularly with Tulane University to test mosquitoes.”

Grafstrom said she spoke with Rick Braunig with the aeronautics division at the Minnesota Department of Transportation who indicated if Braham purchases a drone to spray city property for mosquitoes, the state will register the city for free and will not require the city to get a commercial drone license. He said he’ll also make sure the city is Federal Aviation Administration compliant, as the city will need an FAA certification for the drone operator.

Grafstrom also spoke with Alice Waller with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture who told her if the city is not spraying restricted substances (larvicide is not a restricted substance), and the city only sprays within city limits, it will not need any licensing.

“It’s safe for animals, it’s safe for bees, and the drone would go out during the daylight hours because we don’t want to try to fire a drone at dusk and we would spray the larvicide,” Grafstrom said. “The idea is to mostly hit the ponds and the swampy areas and the areas we can’t get to with the truck to help reduce our mosquito population.”

She explained in 2017 there were 30 varieties of mosquitoes in Minnesota; now there are 51 varieties.

“I love this stuff. I’m so excited about this drone. This is really cutting edge in mosquito spraying,” Grafstrom said. “Ascension Parish in Louisiana uses it and they had a ton of mosquitoes down there. And I spoke to them and they were very excited about this. And the guy I talked to has been to Minnesota and he said, ‘It’d be great for you there.’”

Grafstrom said the drone would only be used within the city limits, and the city would only be spraying larvicide that attacks the mosquito larva so it can’t develop into a mosquito.

“I like that the larvicide isn’t harmful to bees, it’s not harmful to pets, it’s not harmful to humans,” Grafstrom said. “We would still use the spray truck; their life cycle is eight to 10 days, so we need to be using the spray truck at least once a week but the larvicide lasts a month.”

Grafstrom said using a drone will enable the city to drop larvicide in the 200 to 300 acres of swamp the city has and should significantly reduce the mosquito population.

“This is very cutting edge in Minnesota,” Grafstrom said. “We are one of the first, if not the first city in Minnesota to go with the drone mosquito spraying.”

Grafstrom said the city would pay for the drone purchase with the reduction in employee health benefit insurance costs, which leads to a yearly savings of $26,000.

Grafstrom explained the League of Minnesota Cities currently doesn’t have a policy covering drone insurance yet but is working on it. The city has another company they will use to insure the drone and all of the related equipment at a cost of $600 to $650 per aircraft.

It was also noted by Grafstrom the drone could also be utilized for other uses such as fires or missing persons, or taking pictures at different outdoor community events.

City compost site

The council had considerable discussion pertaining to the city’s compost site, and the issue with people dumping unapproved items into the site, such as large tree stumps and logs.

“My only concern is were you to take it away, where is the stuff going to end up? It’s going to end up in the ditch or it’s going to end up someplace else,” Mayor Tish Carlson said.

The council also discussed the fact the compost site is for city of Braham residents only, but noted some residents might not realize they are township residents, not city of Braham residents.

Grafstrom said the city received a quote from Quality Disposal to offer a yard waste cart to any resident wishing to participate in a yard waste collection program. The yard waste collection would be provided on a weekly basis from April 1 through Nov. 1 on the same day trash and recycling are collected. Participants will be able to put out the cart plus an additional three waste bags weekly. Quality Disposal will empty all the bags (they need to be untied) and leave them with the resident. The resident would be charged a flat rate of $100 per season if they decided to participate in the program.

“This could be in tandem with whatever else we choose to do. This is only a charge to the people who choose to use it. They are willing to give it a try and see how many people are interested in this,” Grafstrom said. “I know as a resident, I for one am interested in this. They would take it to our compost site for us and they would put it in there properly and dump it in there.”

Council Member Shawn Sullivan said he feels city residents need to be properly educated.

“I’m not opposed to the gate, or a camera, which is a great option, or even Quality, but I would say a lot of it comes down to education,” Sullivan said. “I think people don’t know. They cleaned up their yard and found stuff, and where do we take this, they take it down to the compost.”

Another option Grafstrom proposed is putting up an electric pole at the compost site and mounting a motion-activated camera to it.

“Then at least we have a tool to go back to the police department and say these people don’t live here,” Grafstrom said.

“Just having the signage and the visibility that this is now monitored might be enough to help with the abuse of what is happening,” Carlson said.

Following discussion, the council approved a motion to accept Quality Disposal’s proposal for yard waste collection, install a lighted pole and camera, and install better signage for educational purposes at the site, noting illegal dumping is prohibited. The council will review the situation again in October or November.

Police Chief Eric Baumgart said if the department receives a complaint about illegal dumping at the compost site, it will get investigated. If officers get a call from someone witnessing the illegal dumping while it’s happening, officers will go out to the site and investigate the situation as it’s occurring. Baumgart said there are criminal penalties that can be enforced with illegal dumping, and he can look to the League of Minnesota Cities for ordinance suggestions.

Council Member Jeremy Kunshier said there are signs at the compost site indicating the site is only for Braham residents and illegal dumping is not permitted.

Sullivan indicated the site needs better signage and more clearer direction is needed of where the different compost items should be placed.

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