FC Council to discuss railroad ties, termites, and toxicity at Feb. 19 meeting

FOREST CITY — “The Formosan termite issue is currently being discussed by the Forest City Town Council.  Forest City signed the demolition contract on behalf of all the Trail Partners—Rutherford County, Ruth, Rutherfordton, Spindale and Forest City.

The Town Council will consider a Change Order at the February 19, 2018 meeting.  Discussions with the demolition company, Treno, LLC and the engineers, Odom and McGill and the Town are underway to see if there is a mutually agreeable solution.

Of the 13.5 miles of trail, approximately 1.8 miles are in an area impacted by the termites.  This represents approximately 6,500 cross ties.  I would withhold further comment until after the Town Council meeting and the results of the discussion to which I just referred,” John Condrey, FC Town manager answered our requests for comment to the FC Council.

At the last Forest City Council meeting, a Change Order up to $34,125 for the Trails railroad ties demolition contract was presented.  According to Forest City Town Manager John Condrey and leader of the Trail partners, Formosan termite infestation along the rail corridor must be properly eliminated. According to NCSU experts, the Formosan subterranean termite (FST), Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, is considered to be one of the most destructive termite species in the world today.

However the Formosan Termite issue has been well-known for years and turned up in a 1992 survey.  In 1994, FST swarmers were found in a residence in the town of Spindale (Rutherford County) in western NC. Two years later, swarmers were found in another building nearby. Subsequent inspections and surveys uncovered at least 17 localized infestation sites primarily in railroad cross ties.

The most recent report identifies Formosan Termites in the following areas:

  • Hwy 64 to Whitesides Road
  • Oakland Road to North State Gas
  • Withrow Road to Hardin Road

“The Formosan subterranean termite has been called the “Super Termite” because of the its ability to consume wood and increase its colony size much quicker than our native termite species. The queen can live for 15 years and can produce about 2,000 eggs a day. The workers collect food and maintain the nest while the soldiers (image shown above) defend the colony. They can live 3-5 years. As a result, a single colony can contain well over one million termites and cover an area over 300 feet. A mature colony will produce a new group of “alates” or swarmers (winged kings and queens) which are darker in color than workers. Formosan termites usually swarm at dusk from April through June,”  writes NCSU Department of Entomology experts.

The Treno, LLC contract requires a budget amendment as the disposal of the termite infested, creosoted railroad ties was not properly identified and correct disposal methods estimated. Initially it was thought that the removed infested railroad ties could be burned along the trail, but the toxicity of the smoke and ash of creosoted ties could potentially put neighborhoods at risk. The EPA requires a difficult-to-obtain Special Use permit in order to burn creosote.

When the issue was brought to the Trail Partners, it was determined that the majority of cross ties could not be salvaged and in light of the burning issues must be properly disposed of in a Subtitle D lined landfill. Rutherford County does not operate a Subtitle D lined landfill.

Within the supporting documents for the FC town council, it reads, “The current Treno contract is for $157,100 so there is money in the $250,000 in the overall budget for rail and cross tie removal current budget for a change order.”

However, as the recent warm, wet weather has arrived, it is a great time for termite activity including termite swarms. Since they can eat 24 hours a day, they can do thousands of dollars in damage to a home’s structure without homeowners even knowing it. However, bids for the Thermal Belt Rail Trail project will be received later this month with construction anticipated to begin in April and expected to be completed by late 2018. The trail will be a gravel base only until the construction is completed along the entire 13 miles.

Below is NCSU’s 2003 field survey in Rutherford County.

North Carolina’s Formosan Termite Program
Field Survey – 2003
In August 2003, a 3-day survey was conducted for infestations of Formosan subterranean termite in the towns of Rutherfordton, Ruth, Spindale and Foresty City. Survey teams included personnel from:

Using the Rutherford County Cooperative Extension Center as a base of operations, the teams surveyed residential neighborhoods, commercial properties, railroad tracks and other areas for evidence of Formosan subterranean termites. Samples of termites were collected and confirmed as to termite species. Seventeen FST infestations sites were identified and the termites genetically characterized by Dr. Ed Vargo of NC State University.

Carl Falco (center), former Director of the Structural Pest Control Division of the NCDA&CS, outlines survey block assignments for survey teams. assigning survey blocks
sampling termites from a tree Ramon Ortiz (black shirt), NCDA&CS-SPC&PD Eastern District Supervisor for the SPC, along with Dan Wall (blue shirt) Plant Protection Field Supervisor, and a local pest management professional examine termites collected from an infested tree.
Formosan subterraneant termite damage and some “carton” material inside the tree. damage to tree
recording data concerning an infested tree Rutherford County Cooperative Extension Agent Jan McGuinn (left) and a local pest management professional collect specimens and record GPS coordinates and other data for a termite-infested tree at a residence.
David Spillman, a local pest management professional, checks cross ties along a decommissioned section of rail in Spindale. 
checking cross ties
Ed Vargo checking railroad cross ties Dr. Ed Vargo from NC State University checks railroad cross ties for Formosan termites. Dr. Vargo provided genetic analyses of the termites to determine which sites had different or related colonies. 
A railroad crosstie heavily damaged by Formosan termites.
termite damaged cross ties
railroad tracks converted to a walking trail The survey was complicated somewhat by the fact that sections of the decommissioned railroad tracks have been covered with more than 8 inches of gravel and converted to walking/biking trails as part of the “NC Rails-Trails Program”. Swarmers were subsequently picked up in a light trap. 

All photographs taken by M. Waldvogel from Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Bulletin.