Big fat rats are building elaborate underground colonies, gnawing through trash cans, and even climbing into cars near the under-construction Barclays Center, where a booming rodent infestation has gone from gross to totally out of control, neighbors say.
“It’s a huge, insane invasion,” said Emilia Sherifova, who lives in north Park Slope. “They’re getting bigger and bigger — and more brazen.”
Residents have long blamed the infestation — evidenced by frequent rodent sightings and rat-roadkill dotted streets — on the soon-to-open basketball stadium, saying the huge construction project disturbed the critters and pushed them into surrounding neighborhoods.
Health Department records prove that rodents are on the rise in communities near the arena, with bait and extermination applications more than tripling in parts of Park Slope, Fort Greene, and Prospect Heights since Barclays Center construction began in 2010.
Requests for city exterminators surged from 127 in 2010 to 510 in 2011 in the 11217 zip code — which includes parts of the three arena-flanking neighborhoods, according to the city’s most recent available statistics.
The uptick infuriates neighbors and business owners who say Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner and his company, Forest City Ratner — which last year paid for 600 rat-proof trash cans in an attempt to thwart the problem — ought to step it up and bait the entire perimeter of the construction site.
Barclays Center spokesman Barry Baum said the arena has had a rodent abatement program in place since construction began and that stadium officials have worked with city and state agencies to rid the area of rats.
“We have expanded the program on site and have also placed traps in the rail yards,” he said. “We have also worked to educate the community on how to help prevent rodent habitats.”
But north Park Slope neighbors say the problem only emerged after Forrest City Ratner started excavating the site at Flatbush and Atlantic avenues to make room for the arena in 2007 — and now they claim it’s worse than ever.
“We can’t walk home in the evening without a rat crossing our path — and we can’t eat at a café without a rat passing us,” said Denise Morales, who was temporarily unable to enter her Butler Street home after returning one night to find dozens of huge rats swarming near her front door.
A group of Morales’s neighbors recently sent a Brooklyn-based extermination company a request to bait more than 25 homes on and near her block, e-mails show.
Restaurant owners share some of the same concerns, saying rodent sightings can have a negative impact on customers’s appetites and pose potential health issues.
Jude Nujabuoko, who runs Cake Ambiance bakery on Dean Street near Flatbush Avenue, said he keeps his doors closed even during warm-weather months to avoid rodents.
“I have to keep doors locked ’cause it’s not safe sanitation-wise,” he said. “The [arena site] was their home before, so now they have to run out.”
— with Ben LockhartReach reporter Natalie O'Neill at noneill@cn