SANFORD, Fla. – Over the past few weeks, several boat owners docked at Marina Island in Sanford said they spent more time cleaning their boats than riding in them.
The reason for all the cleaning: midges, or blind mosquitoes. The insects are neither blind nor mosquitoes and invade hot, wet areas of Florida from April through November.
Boater Brian Wheeler said it's the worst he's ever seen it and he's lived in Sanford his whole life.
"When the guys go to mow the lawns, they have to put handkerchiefs around their face they can't even breathe," Wheeler said. "They're hatching like crazy. If you took a boat out there you could see them waiting to hatch out on the water."
Cleaning crews dumped buckets full of midges into trash cans after vacuuming them out of boats.
Pictures show insects caked onto the fiberglass walls of boats so thick that the surface looks black. At night, the flies look like heavy rain in the glow of the streetlamps.
Boater Carl Bilancione said he hasn't been able to go out on his son's boat lately.
"It's like going into a storm," Bilancione said. "You ever drive over the Lake Jessup bridge and your windshield is blinded, multiply that by 10. That's how bad it is."
Bilancione said the thousands of dead flies on his son's boat are a health hazard even if Sanford city officials don't think so.
"I'm a doctor, I know it doesn't carry disease but they die," Bilancione said. "So you got bodies decomposing, so where do they decompose, your clothes, fridge, your furniture. So how can that not be a health issue?"
Lisa Holder, spokesperson for the city of Sanford, said that while midges do not bite or carry disease, the city "is doing everything it can."
"The city is currently spraying for the insects, and has a contractor to larvicide the lake area around the marina at a cost of $90,000 plus $5,000 for fogging," Holder said. "Unfortunately, the marina area is the worst since it protrudes out in the lake. The city staff realizes this has been an active year and is doing everything we can."
Bilancione said until he contacted News 6 neither he nor his son had seen spraying or gotten answers.
"First they're telling him it's not in the budget and they're supposed to be spraying and they're not spraying," Bilancione said.
Holder said there was never a budget issue. Spraying, like the insects, is seasonal. Sanford is spraying three to four times per week and more as necessary, Holder said.
Volusia County used to spray its side of Lake Monroe when Sanford contracted with Volusia. The contract was discontinued several years ago, Volusia County spokesperson Pat Kuehn said.
Currently Volusia County has launched a decoy light barge on Lake Monroe with solar-powered lights meant to draw the midges from the shoreline out into the middle of the lake.