WOOD RIVER JCT. — The COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from gathering in large groups on Independence Day, but residents of the Richmond neighborhoods of Switch Road and Route 91 near Meadow Brook Pond couldn’t even enjoy their own backyards. Thousands of flies from a nearby farm have infested the area, driving people indoors.

The problem began in late May, when homeowners began noticing an unpleasant odor, unlike the fertilizers they were used to smelling every spring from neighboring farms.

Karishma Atkisson, who grew up in the area and now lives in a subdivision off Switch Road, said the smell came first.

“The smell was so bad you couldn’t even sit outside. That in itself was horrible, but then when the flies started to come it was just …” she said, her voice trailing off.

The flies arrived a couple of days after the odor. Residents began contacting town officials and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to see what could be done, but the flies were unstoppable.

“We’ve been contacting DEM, fish and wildlife,” Atkisson said. “We actually even contacted the Richmond P.D. and Town Hall … We’re either trying to handle it and nothing’s coming from it or we have nothing that we can do, because no laws are being broken.”

The land is being leased to an unnamed farmer who has since removed the source of the odor, which is believed to be chicken manure. All that remains of the pile is a brown stain on the ground near the pond. The flies that originally emanated from the manure pile have since spread for miles around, however, and show no signs of going away.

“They tend to go to things with heat, so if we park our car outside, it’s covered,” Atkisson said. “The inside of our garage is absolutely disgusting with flies. They’re everywhere.”

Atkisson, who has two young children and a five-month-old puppy, said she has been using fly paper strips with little success.

“We change out strips in our house, we have fly swatters, I even set one of those indoor house bombs in the garage. That didn’t work,” she said. “It’s just disgusting. You can’t even take a nap on our couch, because between the strips and fly-swatting, we can’t keep up with it. We’ve probably spent over $300 on just trying to get rid of these things and it’s not even touching it.”

Melissa Iannotti, who lives next-door to the Atkissons, said the fly population now seems to be reproducing and maintaining its high numbers.

“It seems like they keep regenerating,” she said of the flies. “We think it’s over and then they come back. You cannot spend a moment outside.”

David Vernaglia, who lives on Switch Road across the pond from the farm, is also battling the infestation.

“There are thousands of flies here, swarming on the door, swarming on the windows. It’s the grossest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 20 years and I never had a complaint about farming before. I don’t mind the smell. I don’t mind the noise. But this year, it was like a plague.”

A self-described gardener, Vernaglia said he understands that manure is regularly used to fertilize farm fields, but this year, the manure has produced a fly problem.

“When you’re talking so many flies that I can’t walk outside without them crawling on my face, crawling over everything, it’s actually gross,” he said. "Seriously, seriously gross."

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management did not comment on either the manure pile or the flies. The agency remained closed Monday along with other state offices in observance of Independence Day. 

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