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Greens fight roadside spraying

"No-spray signs availableIsland County provides residents free no spraying signs for roadsides fronting private property. The signs can be picked up from the public works department at the county annex building, 6th and Main streets in Coupeville, or at the county road shop at the corner of Ault Field and Oak Harbor roads. Call county public works at 679-7331, or the state Department of Transportation office in Mount Vernon, 360-428-1386.Members of the new Island County Green Party chapter are taking on the environmental health of county ditches and roadsides as their first project.Theresa Ghandi, Coupeville resident and Greens treasurer, said the problem rests with the county's upcoming annual herbicide spraying, which Greens believe threatens wildlife, water tables and county residents' health.Meanwhile, county roads Superintendent Jack Taylor said road crew members were recently retrained and recertified by the state Department of Agriculture to apply Roundup, Oust and other weed-killers.The county will start spraying sometime after April 15, depending on weather. The state Department of Transportation will likely start spraying alongside state routes 20 and 525 in the next two weeks.Taylor says spraying is carried out in a careful, responsible program within strict Department of Agriculture guidelines.But carefully applied or not, Ghandi said there's enough scientific evidence to prove the chemicals are potentially hazardous, if not downright dangerous. She points to a recent federal Centers for Disease Control study that found astoundingly high levels of toxic chemicals in human blood and urine, including some of the chemicals present in herbicides.United Kingdom scientists have also recently linked pesticides to mad cow disease.We've heard horror stories from Colombia where they were laying down Roundup from the air to kill coca. Women in the area are having miscarriages and people are getting really sick, Ghandi said of the South America country. The bottom line is that it's just not ecologically wise to add any toxins to the environment. We're just about to tumble into the awareness that this stuff is really, really bad.Ghandi said the spraying policy is especially troublesome to her since she is chemically sensitive. She said she loves to walk the countryside, but wears a protective mask to filter out persistent fumes.Island Greens are circulating a petition against the spraying policy and are putting together an outreach and educational effort. Their main thrust is to get people who own land along county roads to put up no spraying signs.Island County Commissioner Bill Thorn said he understands the concerns but doesn't think the county has any other choice. By state law, the county is mandated to control the weeds on its road rights of way and shoulders. They've explored other options for controlling the weeds - such as a hot steam machine - but nothing else proved practical.Taylor said there's many reasons for spraying roadsides. First, they need to control the noxious weeds growing there, like tansy, ragwort and Canadian thistle. These plants are harmful to livestock and would spread into farmers' fields if not controlled.There's also a traffic safety issue. Taylor says the weeds tend to encroach onto the shoulder, which is intended to be a recovery area for cars that leave the road. Grasses and weeds tend to be slippery and could contribute to an accident, leaving the county with liability.Anyone who has run in wet grass with bare feet should know, he said.Also, he said encroaching weeds could become a barrier for water run-off, causing rain to puddle on the road surface.The roads crew has about 600 miles of county roads to deal with, but Taylor said there are many areas that don't get sprayed.The county doesn't spray within 200 feet of streams or in ditches where water is present. They don't spray in areas where golden-ended paintbrush, an endangered plant, has been seen growing or in areas where chemically sensitive people work.Doug Bianchi, tDepartment of Transportation maintenance supervisor, said the state has three different programs for controlling roadside vegetation. There's the shoulder clear zone, the noxious weed program and the brush program.Bianchi said all of the different sprays the state uses have low toxicity. They're at the low end of the low toxicity range, he said.In the larger scope of things, Taylor said the amount of herbicide the county sprays is small in comparison to the quantities farmers and homeowners contribute to the environment.The spraying crews honor no spray signs, but Taylor said people who post the signs are responsible for controlling the weeds by mowing, weeding or however else they want to.Bianchi says state maintenance workers don't honor the no spray signs. People who own property along a state highway and don't want spraying must get a no spray permit from the Department of Transportation. There are different varieties of the permit, depending on how much of the ditch and roadside the landowner wants to take care of him or herself.Bianchi says landowners are required to follow the state's stringent rules on controlling the the vegetation themselves if they don't want spraying. Chemicals of any kind are not popular, but we're trying to find a balance that is acceptable, Taylor said. Right now, it's the most economic and most efficient way to go.You can reach staff reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611. "

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