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From - 2000 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

What's the buzz about?
Anti-fogger unsure why there's anger over skeeter scandal
Tue, Jul 11, 2000

RICK Penner is easily the most reviled man in Wolseley. In fact, he's friendless on general principles in many Winnipeg neighbourhoods, most of them places where his fervent beliefs will have no discernible impact. In the middle of the worst mosquito infestation most people can remember, cranky Winnipeggers are looking for a scapegoat.
Penner seems an ideal candidate. It's summer, it's been raining for weeks and Penner won't let the city fog his laid-back neighbourhood for mosquitoes.

People as far away as Transcona are muttering mean things about him. He's not sure what all the fuss is about.

"We don't understand why this is so controversial," he says. "People have been concerned about Malathion spraying for years. But they're mad at mosquitoes. They need a focal point. I guess I'm it."

All the 36-year-old did was help organize a clever campaign that saw 230 Wolseley residents formally object to Malathion spraying. Penner and 20 other homeowners went door-to-door in the granola belt, knocking on every tenth door. No strangers to lobbying, the gang of 20 knew that city guidelines forbid spraying within 100 metres of a home that has objected. Ninety per cent of the homeowners approached agreed to sign. Those 230 signatures prevented several thousand Wolseley residents from having their backyards fogged. Not every homeowner was amused.

Penner returned from the Folk Festival on Sunday afternoon to discover he was not only famous, he was facing the wrath of an entire city. Hundreds of Free Press readers had shared their anger in faxes, e-mails, phone calls and letters to the editor, many furious that a small group could control fogging for an entire neighbourhood. Some, apparently unaware that no one in this city is out playing in the backyard, blamed Penner and his friends for making summer a buzzing, biting hell.

"I am appalled that a few misguided and ill-informed residents of a whole community can dictate my life," wrote Rose-Ann Lavery. "My 80-year-old mother can't leave the house and even my dogs don't want to go out."

For years, some Winnipeggers have registered their houses against fogging. There are concerns that Malathion can lead to birth defects, breathing difficulties and, some claim, even death. Until this year, no one had figured out how to pull off a complete ban.

Their timing couldn't have been worse.

"Why are they so cranky this year?," asks fellow petition organizer Cathy Hellsten. "I guess it's all the rain. I think everyone has just had it. Everyone's unhappy. I don't like mosquitoes any more than anyone else."

The backlash has surprised Hellsten.

"It's been very personal. People don't understand that he (Penner) is looking after the health of all the children."

Penner has only received a handful of phone calls. Fifteen were calls of support, 10 were negative.

"They weren't overly hostile," says Penner. "People were just thanking me for ruining their summer. I talked to a couple of the people and we ended up agreeing on a number of points. The real problem was the rain. No one wants the mosquitoes around.

"I think that having this discussion has been very important. We want people to start looking at alternatives. I think all of this has moved the debate forward."

Hellsten, who also carries a petition to prevent chemical spraying for weed control, says it's up to individuals to take responsibility for the mosquito problem. She wears long, light-coloured pants, drains the water out of her backyard and hustles home when the sun goes down and the mosquitoes come out in full force. She'd rather face a few bites than the danger of chemicals.

"You have to adapt your lifestyle somewhat to nature, rather than trying to force nature to adapt using chemicals."

Rick Penner's fame will fade in a few weeks. All it will take is some dry weather, a good breeze and a few Wolseley residents armed with their own fogging machines. Until then, he's willing to take the abuse and keep fighting.

It's not easy being green