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County spray trucks are on course for 2002

To spray or not to spray?

The perennial controversy over Island County’s road spray policy came to a small but combative head on Monday, as a local Green Party member asked the Board of Island County Commissioners to cease using chemical applicants in its $16 million road maintenance program.

At Monday’s board meeting, Coupeville resident Theresa Ghandi, sporting a “Fight Truth Decay” button in her cap, took aim at Island County Public Works’ use of RoundupPro, a glysophate-based chemical herbicide. Her comments were directed at the county’s 6-year road maintenance program, which has not been finalized.

Herbicide and pesticide application accounts for about $90,000 out of the total vegetation control annual budget of $685,000, said County Engineer Dick Toft on Tuesday.

Ghandi, citing numerous scientific sources, claims that Roundup has causative links with several human diseases, including lymphoma, penile dysfunction and testicular atrophy.

“It’s criminal,” Ghandi said in an interview Tuesday. “They are telling people that this stuff is harmless.”

While officials in the Public Works Department say they have been considering the benefits of going with a completely no-spray program, as yet no major changes in the yearly road maintenance practices have been implemented.

“There isn’t any change in what we’re doing,” Toft said. “We are going to be reducing a little bit, but this is not a new thing.”

This year, public works will stop using the chemical Direx in roadside vegetation management, said Maintenance Engineer Jack Taylor. The department will continue to use both RoundupPro and Oust which, Taylor said, “you can buy right off the shelf at Cenex.”

For now, Taylor said, it’s business as usual.

“Certainly we’ve been discussing no-spray,” Taylor said. “At this point in time, I haven’t gotten any directions that we’re not going to spray. I’m going to proceed until someone tells me different.

“It’s our intent to spray,” he added.

Taylor said there are ongoing efforts to cut back on the use of herbicides.

“There are other things that we’re doing, obviously,” he said. “We certainly are looking at areas where we can reduce the herbicides we do spray, and we recognize no-spray signs.”

Also, Taylor said county sprayers are caution in applying chemicals within the radius of wells, near shorelines and wetlands, and in the vicinity of rare and endangered plants.

For Ghandi, who is chemically-injured, such policies are too little too late. She said she has no doubt that the chemicals used by the county are hazardous to human beings and the environment.

“I’m a pretty smart cookie,” Ghandi said, adding that she has pored over piles of documents linking exposure to Roundup with human endocrine disruption. She claims that she has given the board of commissioners many of the same documents, and yet “they did nothing about it.”

“The commissioners never have got it,” Ghandi said. “If they did, they would never do this.”

However, contrary to Ghandi’s claims, the county has been looking into the possibility of cutting back or even eliminating the use of chemical sprays.

Toft said beyond this year’s budget, the jury is still out on which direction the county will take regarding its vegetation control program.

“We have budgeted for our normal spray program,” Toft said. “We did not budget for the increased cost if we stop spraying and buy mowers.”

As to the safety of the chemicals currently in use, Toft said the county’s employees are fully registered and certified by the state Dept. of Agriculture to apply RoundupPro and Oust. Beyond this, he said that chemicals make up a fairly small percentage of the total vegetation budget.

“We feel we have reasonable costs, and everything is done certified,” Toft said.

“All this means is they’ve got a driver’s license to use it,” Ghandi said, adding that the government has not sufficiently studied the damaging effects of the stuff and that other studies are unreliable.

“You cannot trust the studies that were created by universities that are funded by chemical corporations,” she said.

Toft said the county is still accepting public comment on the county’s 6-year transportation plan until it is adopted sometime in May.

“From now on, it’s preferred that they do it at the public sessions of the planning commission or the board of commissioners,” Toft said. “And if someone sent me a letter of concern, I wouldn’t throw it away.”

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