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Manure spreader is covered with flies as it sits in a DEM leased field. Wood River residents across from this field are battling a massive fly invasion on Monday, July 6, 2020. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

RICHMOND — In response to neighbors’ complaints about a manure pile and a resulting fly infestation, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management will take measures to ensure that a similar situation does not occur again.

Residents of neighborhoods near Meadow Brook Pond in Wood River Junction have been driven indoors by an infestation of flies that originated in a large manure pile at a nearby farm. The flies have since begun reproducing, perpetuating the problem and preventing people from enjoying their outdoor spaces.

The property in question, which is owned by the DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, is located at 486 Church Street. It is leased to George Palmer of Connecticut, who operates the parcel as a dairy farm. 

Neighbors first began complaining three weeks ago about the strong odor, which they described as being more noxious than the manure usually used by neighboring farmers. Soon after, thousands of flies from the manure pile descended on the area.

Ken Ayars, chief of DEM’s agriculture division, said Palmer accepted several loads of chicken manure from his home state, which he intended to spread on his corn fields. The problem was, he let it sit too long. Howard Cook of the DEM’s fish and wildlife division visited the site about two weeks ago and again on July 3.

“There was piles of manure onsite which were being stockpiled by this particular farmer in anticipation of putting it into the soil to serve as a fertilizer for his planting of corn,” Ayars said. “That’s a common agricultural practice, but how you do it is pretty important to whether you’re creating a nuisance or not, and chicken manure, which is coming from some farms in Connecticut, can be definitely a nuisance if it’s not managed pretty carefully.”

The DEM concluded that there was too much manure and that it had sat too long before being applied to the fields.

“We told the farmer, through Fish and Wildlife, because Fish and Wildlife is the lessee, ‘Don’t bring any more on. Spread what you have. Get rid of the nuisance,’ which he did,” Ayars said. “He did spread within, at the time, four to five days I think, and we made sure that that happened, made sure that nothing else came on … but I think the issue was that it was just too long before it all got spread.”

The DEM is now considering ways to ensure that farmers who lease its land spread manure promptly, before it becomes a nuisance.

“We will suggest that there be some type of management scheme so that manure is spread,” Ayars said. “Whether you do a third of the field at a time or something like that, it doesn’t stay there for a long period of time, create flies, create odors and the type of situation that ended up resulting from this. That’s what we’re going to aim for.”

Unfortunately, nothing can be done about the thousands of flies still plaguing the Wood River homeowners.

“Unfortunately, the flies remain and we recognize the challenge of that,” Ayars said. “We don’t have a good answer for the flies, myself and my staff. It’s not the best. We agree."

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