The rats wreaking havoc in Prospect Heights for months — some say as a result of Atlantic Yards construction — may be headed our way.
Lucy Koteen, a resident of Carlton Avenue near Lafayette Street in Fort Greene, said sightings of the rodents in her section of the neighborhood were becoming more common.
"I've never seen rats before [construction started]," she said.
Stirred up by the digging at Atlantic Yards, rats have been a problem mostly for Prospect Heights residents, with the rodents eating through garbage cans and insulation in cars, boring through front doors and even climbing up one woman’s leg as she sat in her backyard, residents said at a meeting between area residents and city officials Thursday night.
“We don’t have a normal rat problem, we have a rat tsunami,” said one Prospect Heights woman. “I can look out in the middle of the day and see my trash cans outside my window overflowing with rats.”
About 75 area residents crowded into the Soapbox Gallery on Dean Street for the meeting organized by the Dean Street Block Association and Councilwoman Letitia James, D-Brooklyn.
Residents told of rats taking over the Dean Street Playground, dragging food under the hoods of cars causing fires, eating car insulation and burrowing through walls into homes. One man said he's afraid to let his 12-year-old child take out the garbage for fear of a rat attack.
“Within the last year I got a significant number of complaints about rats,” said Councilwoman James. “This is for me probably the most pressing issue.”
Representatives from the Empire State Development Corp., the state agency overseeing the project, as well as from the city’s Departments of Health and Sanitation came to the meeting. Representatives from the mega-project’s developer, Forest City Ratner, and the MTA didn’t attend.
"Forest City Ratner should have been here, the people on the ground should have been here," said Peter Krashes, president of the Dean Street Block Association.
Rick Simeone, the Department of Health’s director of pest control collected a list of problem spots and promised to get working on them the next day. He and the other officials also offered for rat control such as covering their garbage cans and to wait to put out trash until the morning of pick-up.
But residents said the problem was well beyond that.
“We cannot go outside day or night, we’re being bitten. This is not something that can be addressed with “hygiene,” said one resident using air quotes.
“What we need here is for Forest City Ratner to take responsibility and find some rat specialist to deal with the whole neighborhood, at their expense, not ours,” said another resident. “Don’t penalize us for not having the proper trash cans.”
The ESDC’s representative, Arana Hankin, said Forest City Ratner had rat baits along the perimeter of the construction site, but residents said the rats were already swarming area streets and asked that the mega-developer place bait throughout the neighborhood. Hankin said this wasn’t possible because Ratner did not have jurisdiction outside of the site.
“I refuse to accept that they will not bait outside the construction area,” said James, who heads the City Council’s sanitation committee. She said she would take the issue up with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Residents also asked for trashcans for every corner, but they were told that even if they could get the cans approved, which is unlikely for a residential area, the city only provides the uncovered mesh kind, which wouldn’t help. Finding out that the partially enclosed kind paid for by corporate sponsors, residents suggested that Ratner pay for those, and James said she would look into paying for them out of her budget.
Approached today, Forest City Ratner said he would look into the community’s requests, but said that Ratner has had a rodent control plan in place for more than two years, “beginning long before construction started” and “will continue to revisit the program to assess the impact.”
Residents were encouraged to report rat problems to 311, but the ESDC’s Hankin also urged residents to call her directly with complaints at 212-803-3766. Peter Krashes, president of the Dean Street Block Association, also urged residents to submit their complaints through his watchdog website Atlantic Yards Watch.
Taniya Gunasekara, who said during the meeting that rats were boring through the front door of her Dean Street brownstone, left the meeting disappointed.
“I didn’t feel like they provided any solutions,” she said. “It was good for people to voice their concerns but the people who have the power to solve them should have more to say than that they’re putting out 180 traps.”