Beekeepers upset over change in mosquito spraying notifications

Surviving bees at Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply work on removing dead bees from their hives in August 2016.

Rewind to August 2016—owners of a local bee farm said Dorchester County’s aerial spraying of mosquitoes contributed to the deaths of about 4 million of their honeybees; fast-forward three years and a lawsuit regarding the incident remains tied up in the courts.

Though county officials won’t comment on the suit, filed in January 2017, many local beekeepers said they think the litigation is what prompted County Council members, in May, to approve changing the county’s notification system for mosquito spraying.

In the past, the county issued texts and other alerts to beekeepers, telling them spraying was soon to occur and to cover their hives in a timely manner. A county employee also made personal calls to the beekeepers. Now, beekeepers have to be more proactive about finding out the spraying schedule, posted and frequently updated on the county website.

“The beekeepers are unhappy,” said local beekeeper Nancy Simpston to council members Monday during a meeting in Summerville.

It was the second time this month Simpston has publicly addressed county leaders about her frustration on the matter.

But she wasn’t the only one buzzing about the need to return to the former notification process.

“I don’t have any time for social media; I’m keeping bees,” said Jim Strohm, a hobbyist German beekeeper in Wescott neighborhood.

Strohm told the council for eight years he’s been keeping bees in Dorchester and Charleston counties and teaching on the subject for four years. He’s president of Charleston Community Bee Gardens and on the executive board of the South Carolina Beekeepers Association.

“I don’t want to be here, and I’m sure you don’t want to listen to me—but I think I have to,” Strohm said. “This (notification system) was stopped with no input from any beekeepers, that I’m aware of. I’ve talked to every beekeeper I know, and they said, ‘What was this all about?’ …I think it’s unreasonable.”

The notification concern even prompted 31-year beekeeper Henry Lowrimore of Georgetown to flock to Council Chambers. He also addressed the loose laws surrounding the niche hobby.

“You know, ya’ll are our law; What ya’ll give us is what we have,” Lowrimore said. “South Carolina laws for beekeepers is really not adequate. …We need more, and we need ya’ll to support us. …Talk to your beekeepers. I know how we manage our bees and how spraying affects us and our bees.”

The 2016 bee deaths occurred at Flowertown Bee Farm and Supply, owned by Mitch Yawn and Juanita Mae Stanley. In the bee community, news of the insects’ deaths stole local and global headlines.

“That was a bad episode; it caused international stir,” Simpston said. “Folks, we’ve got negative publicity; this is not good.”

In addition to the county, the owners are suing the Town of Summerville and Al Allen and Allen Aviation, the company that conducted the spraying. Summerville-area attorney Mike Rose and Andrew Gowder, of a Charleston-based law firm are representing Yawn and Stanley.

According to the suit, the plaintiffs are seeking damages as well as an injunction to prevent the county from conducting further sprays over their property without giving notice. At the time the suit was filed, the county told the Journal Scene it had attempted restitution by preparing paperwork for the business to submit a claim to the South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund.

Rose told the Journal Scene in an email on Tuesday that he also couldn’t provide any updates on the suit or comment.

Because of the suit, Strohm said he also had concerns about the county not testing its spray for pesticides — but county leaders said that’s simply not true.

“The county tests for pesticides; that’s false,” said Councilman David Chinnis.

Spraying is also conducted out of necessity, he said.

“They don’t just randomly spray just because. …They check to see that the spray is needed,” Chinnis said.

In August 2016, the county said it sprayed to prevent more local Zika virus cases.

According to the follow-up pesticide investigation report, on the 2016 case, from the local Clemson University Extension office, none of the samples of deceased bees that the office’s Department of Pesticide Regulation checked, specifically the insecticide Naled, yielded pesticide residue.

However, the report also said Naled has the “ability to rapidly degrade” and that result may have “likely occurred” due to the timeframe that elapsed between the spraying and when the samples were collected, 53 hours later.

The solution to the no-notification concern is simple, according to Simpston.

“All we’re asking is to talk,” she said. “We can go out to coffee. I can provide sweet honey. …I hope that you will reconsider.”

Chinnis said the county is already meeting the state requirement to post the information in a timely manner.