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County to spend $34,500 on courthouse bats

Lead Summary
Mavis Fodness

Steps will be taken as soon as next week to stop bats from inhabiting the Rock County Courthouse.
At their Sept. 8 meeting, Rock County Commissioners unanimously agreed to hire Prestige Services, Canby, to bat-proof the entire structure.
Cost will be $34,500.
The board’s action is in response to a Sept. 3 letter from Court Administrator Denise Brandel to County Administrator Kyle Oldre.
“This continues to be a serious problem,” she wrote. “It is my understanding from speaking with staff that there were eight live bats caught in the courthouse within the past couple of weeks.”
Brandel explained that one of her staff members keeps a badminton racquet near her desk to defend against the flying mammals.
“The presence of the bats and their droppings could create a health risk for people who work in the Rock County staff, including court staff and county staff,” her letter stated.
“In addition, bat waste has caused a noticeable odor in the courthouse.”
Pipestone County also receives letter about bats
Brandel is also court administrator in Nobles, Murray and Pipestone counties and she also sent a letter to Pipestone County Administrator Sharon Hanson.
There the bat sightings have been limited within the courthouse, a more-than-century-old structure similar to Rock County’s. Brandel’s concern involved the court records stored in the attic.
“My staff must frequently go to the attic to retrieve records for use in court hearings,” she wrote. “They must wear masks and rubber gloves to avoid coming into contact with the bat droppings.”
Beau Berentson, spokesperson for the state court administration, wrote in an email that the Fifth Judicial District administration (which includes Rock County) is surveying court staff in other districts to determine whether similar issues exist in other facilities.
“Presently, there have been no bat problems reported in Murray and Nobles counties,” Berentson wrote.
Brandel gave both county administrators until Sept. 25 to address her concern about bats.
County obligated to
maintain courts building
State statute requires counties to provide and maintain suitable facilities for conducting court proceedings in the court system.
Oldre told commissioners bats have been frequent visitors in the courthouse. Its three chimneys and hundreds of cracks and crevices were cited as how the bats get inside.
Oldre said the county’s maintenance department has tried to curtail bats from entering the building including the use of steel wool and a device that emits a high-pitched squeal to deter the bats from returning to the building. The use of high-intensity lights was discussed but was dismissed as a fire hazard.
Recently, a pattern has developed in removing bats from the courthouse.
“Bats get in, fly throughout the corridor, get caught and taken outside,” Oldre said.
Bats cannot be killed
per state, federal laws
Because bats are listed on the state’s special concerns list with one bat species on the federal threatened species list, they cannot be exterminated. Preventing them from entering and inhabiting a building is the best possible solution, Oldre said.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture lists 174 companies in the state certified in structural pest removal.
Bat Guys Bat Removal is a division of Prestige Services and owner/certified pest licensee Michael Kack said his business has grown 500 percent in the past five years.
He estimates his two crews will bat proof 600 buildings by the end of this year. Buildings range from new construction to century-old courthouses like Rock County’s.
“We originally started as a restoration company, just to eliminate the mess,” Kack said.
The mess is guano or bat feces, which emit a strong odor to attract new bats into a building.
“It smells like a really dirty hamster cage,” he explained.
Kack worked with Douglas County officials in Alexandria who received a citation in 2014 for having bats in their courthouse by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Effective cleaning, paying attention to every crack, and installing custom-built traps that allow bats to leave buildings at night to feed and not reenter are keys to success, Kack said.
His work is warranted for 10 years, and he and will return free of charge to remove bats. Douglas County has not called to report any return on bats to their courthouse, he said.
Kack is motivated in keeping bats out of buildings not only due to health concerns but also because he doesn’t want the species to become extinct.
“They help control the bug populations,” he said.
Bats help with control of mosquitos, other insects
According to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR), a bat’s guano contains fungal spores that, if inhaled, could cause histoplasmosis, a respiratory infection. Bats are also known to transmit rabies and bat bugs.
Extreme care should be taken when removing bats and their guano from buildings. The MnDNR recommended removal method is the use of non-lethal, non-chemical, permanent, physical exclusion of the bats.
“Not all bats will use human structures as roosts,” said Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer, MnDNR regional non-game wildlife specialist in New Ulm. “The most common would be the big brown bat and the little brown myotis.”
Both species are the state’s special concern list, meaning its numbers are carefully monitored.
“Bats are beneficial and gentle creatures,” Gelvin-Innvaer added. “The enormous quantities of mosquitos and other insects that bats consume each year make summers in Minnesota more livable. However, we typically don’t want them living inside our buildings.”

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