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Portsmouth health officer: 53 rodent complaints in 3 years

Union Leader Correspondent

January 02. 2018 12:34PM
The owner of Portsmouth Gas Light Co. is in a court battle with the city over enclosing outdoor bar equipment, and the growing rat concern was brought up last month in court paperwork. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

PORTSMOUTH — The city's health officer reported there have been 53 rodent complaints over the last three years, with only four of the complaints coming from the city's businesses or restaurants.

Three of those four businesses were downtown while the other was a Lafayette Road food-service establishment, Health Officer Kim McNamara said.

McNamara said three of those reports concerned rodents outside a business and the fourth concerned a deck area with unprotected outdoor food-service equipment.

McNamara detailed where the other 49 complaints came from. She said 35 of the sightings came from residents, two were from city visitors, three reports were filed after an inspection of a non-food business, one was received from a pest-control applicator who had been hired to assess a property and eight reports came from other city departments.

McNamara said that in 2015, the health department received 18 sightings of live or dead rats or evidence of rodents, including burrows.

"This was a substantial increase from 2014, in which only three reports were received," McNamara reported. "This increased trend has continued with 19 reports in 2016, and 16 reports thus far in 2017."

McNamara wrote her findings in a Dec. 26 memo that was released Tuesday morning in response to a Right-to-Know request.

The city's increasing rat population came to light last month when McNamara stated in a court affidavit that the city has seen an increase in rats since 2015.

Her affidavit was used in a legal battle between the city and the owner of Portsmouth Gas Light Co., a popular restaurant and bar that's fighting a requirement that bar equipment on its outdoor deck be enclosed when not in use.

"Rats and other rodents are pests of public health significance in that they carry and can transmit dangerous diseases to humans through direct contact with their urine, feces and saliva by contact with food, food contact surfaces and food service equipment," McNamara said in the affidavit, filed at Rockingham County Superior Court.

Paul Sorli, the restaurant's owner, said he is the person who reported two rats near his deck in July of 2015, but they were in an alleyway heading toward the High-Hanover Parking Garage. In his 27 years in business, he said, that is the only time he has encountered rodents.

"None of us in the restaurant industry want to deal with rodents," Sorli said.

Sorli said he is fighting the city because the cost to enclose his bars would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. One of the bars on the deck is 30 feet long, he said.

Sorli said most restaurants comply with requests from health officials because they fear retribution but he decided to take the city to court because it is asking him to permanently change his business for a non-existent problem.

Sorli said the deck was not damaged during a massive fire in December of 2015 and his insurance company refused to pay for enclosures as part of the rebuild.

The city council recently adopted the 2009 Food and Drug Administration Food Code with an added subsection that states that permanent outdoor beverage bars must be fully enclosed during non-operational hours.

It says that if adequate protection can be provided by other effective means, a variance may be issued.

During an October city council meeting, McNamara explained that any areas where food and drinks are prepared need to be protected so rodents and insects cannot get into equipment.

She emphasized these protective measures must be permanent.

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