Walk along Second Avenue on the Upper East Side and you can’t escape the signs. Sidewalks are chopped and jagged, local shops and restaurants are noticeably barren of customers, and dust and debris are scattered along the road. Construction workers are hard to miss in their neon-orange vests as they drill and jackhammer, making audible progress on Manhattan’s next – and most expansive of the past 60 years – development in mass transportation.
Less obvious to pedestrians is what is taking place underground, below the vibrating pavement of Second Avenue. Ever since construction of the new subway line began, in 2007, millions have pests have been displaced, sent fleeing through watery sewers and dark tunnels. And they have to go somewhere.
“Rats are not the only problem,” warns Mike Deutsch, and urban entomologist at Arrow Exterminating Co. Inc, who has specialized in urban pests for 30 years. “It’s incredible what’s underground in New York City. There are 8 to 10 million rats and 20 million mice in our city’s subterranean world – not to mention waterbugs, which are American cockroaches.”
“It becomes very problematic when water tunnels are drilled and disturbed,” says Deutsch of the Second Avenue subway construction. “Anytime you disturb or divert the system, pests will be displaced and spread into surrounding buildings. Waterbugs will start streaming out of tunnels and into buildings’ sewage systems, and some buildings don’t have the proper equipment to prevent them from getting in.”
Not everyone has the same grievance with the construction. “My gut feeling is that the construction along Second Avenue has probably reduced the overall rat population in and around the area… because the contractor’s vector-control specialists have been setting and maintaining rat traps around the construction area continuously,” says Ben Heckscher, who runs “The Launch Box Blog,” a site documenting progress about the ongoing subway project.
“Sure it may have caused the rats to run around after a blast, but I don’t see any way that the blasting could have actually increased the population of rats,” Heckscher says. “There may have been a few cases where the rat population increased in a few vacant stores, but that surely can’t be directly related to the subway construction.”
Still, stores and restaurants are worried about business. Many Second Avenue merchants reported a 25 to 50 percent decline in sales over the last three years due to the construction, according to an October 4th article in The New York Times. Add to that the threat of increased pest activity, and the businesses become even more nervous.
“I am afraid because I have seen more mice in the area,” said the owner of a Tasti D-lite franchise on Second Avenue at 82nd Street. “I see them when I leave at night to walk to the subway. They’re running around all over the sidewalks. Just last week, Wasabi Lobby [a Japanese restaurant across Second Avenue] was shut down for a night. I saw the lights were off and I asked what happened, and someone told me the Department of Health shut them down for live mice. I’m scared because I could be next. The mice could come here, and I have no control over it.”
A block north of that Tasti D-lite franchise, a construction worker was finishing the day’s work on a recent afternoon. He was wearily lining up orange cones next to a barricade, the lines in his weathered face telling a story of years of labor. When asked if it was possible that the drilling and blasting from the subway construction could contribute to increased pest activity in the neighborhood, he shook his hand in front of his face quickly. “No, no, no,” he said, putting his hardhat back on and retreating down the avenue.
“The subway construction has nothing to do with the breeding rate – it’s not going to create more rats in New York City,” says James Ciccone, a pest expert at Liberty Pest Control. “The problem is that they’re in public areas now, instead of underground. The subway construction is absolutely 100 percent responsible for that. Their habitat is being disrupted due to the demolition, and the pests need to find new spaces.Those spaces are found in neighboring local shops, restaurants, and bars.”
Ciccone puts it simply: “Now that the rats and other pests are on the mainland, as the weather gets colder, they will seek shelter. They’re looking for good food and warm temperatures. They’re a lot like us.”
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