Opinion

SOUNDOFF: Make state stop its highway spray

When the Island County Commissioners voted to stop spraying herbicides along county roads on April 1, 2002, they joined Clallam, Jefferson, San Juan, Snohomish and Thurston counties, numerous states, and British Columbia in rejecting reliance on these toxic chemicals.

Many people thought that roadside spraying on Whidbey Island was finally over. Unfortunately, Washington Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) has continued regular application of toxic chemicals to the road shoulders on Highway 525 and 20, as well as spraying trees and shrubs with a hose mounted on a tanker truck.

In 1991 a state rule (see WAC 173-270-040) was adopted that required WSDOT to: 1) create a vegetation management program and specific plans for all counties in the Puget Sound Basin with a goal of reducing herbicide use, 2) obtain the Dept. of Ecology’s preliminary approval, and 3) “consult” with affected tribes, local governments and “interested parties” before adopting the program and plans. WSDOT has done none of this.

In January, representatives of the Whidbey Island No-Spray coalition (WINS) met with WSDOT and pointed out the state agency’s 12-plus year violation of the law. WSDOT's response was immediate and swift — pull out all the stops in an attempt to meet the procedural requirements of the law while continuing business as usual. And so was born the plan — the “Whidbey Island Integrated Vegetation Management Plan.” To download the Plan go to www.WSDOT.WA.gov/maintenance/IVM.htm and then scroll to the last paragraph.

The plan proposes to continue spraying a strip alongside both sides of 94 percent of the highway every year — more than 36 acres altogether. WSDOT will not spray several miles along Penn Cove and Crockett Lake due to a federal court decision protecting salmon from pesticides, but county-designated critical areas, such as wetlands and streams, are fair game. Where trees and shrubs are a problem in the right-of-way, they’ll be sprayed instead of cut or mowed as the county does.

The plan makes no commitment to any reduction in herbicide use. Use of these toxic materials is preferred even over proven alternatives such as mowing. WSDOT’s spray program fails to recognize the risks and impacts to surface water, drinking water (including nearby wells), wildlife, adopt-a-highway litter patrols, bicyclists, equestrians and people traveling the highway.

Cost is not a reason for WSDOT to continue its chemical dependency. The first full year of Island County’s herbicide free roadside maintenance cost less than 7 percent more than the previous herbicide dependent program. These costs should decrease over time as more appropriate native vegetation becomes established on roadside backslopes. In short, WSDOT’s chemical dependency endangers us while misusing our hard-earned taxes.

Island County Commissioners did the right thing in 2002 when they stopped spraying our roadsides. Let’s hope they tell WSDOT that they want the state agency to follow their lead and stop spraying the highways now. Let commissioners Shelton, MacDowell and Byrd know today that’s what you want at 679-7354, or bicc@co.island.wa.us.

As for the legally required consultation with “interested parties,” that’s where you, the people who live here, come in. WSDOT will be holding an open house Tuesday, April 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Coupeville High School. This will be the only consultation opportunity you'll have. Coming late is fine. We need to show WSDOT that the people who live on Whidbey Island want toxic spraying along the highway stopped now!

Steve Erickson represents Whidbey Environmental Action Network. This message is also supported by Mark Wahl, Laurie Keith, Linda Lindsay, Nancy Schaaf, Whidbey Island No-Spray Coalition; John Petersons, South Whidbey Tilth; Bill Walker, Green Party of Island County; and Theresa Marie Gandhi, Whidbey Island Chemically Injured Network.

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