Lesley Beatson got a bit of a shock when she was walking her dog last month on the trails below Happy Valley.
“Without warning or restraint, I received a toxic greeting from airborne VP 480 in the old cemetery this morning,” she said, naming a herbicide that was being sprayed by a worker at the site. “I was well into the cemetery on my regular daily walk with my young pup, when I questioned a worker wearing protective gear.
“I am extremely concerned that my tax dollars are paying for applying chemical poison,” Beatson continues in her letter to Rossland city council, co-signed by a half dozen neighbours. “We are living in a time when it is clearly acknowledged that creating new safer, more sustainable ways of managing all problems is the best way to proceed.”
Another upset resident pointed out the plant being sprayed with the herbicide, Oregon grape, is not an invasive species, but a native plant that also serves as natural food for bears in the area.
“Please stop having city workers spray herbicide on Oregon grape plants in our cemetery,” Alynn Smith wrote to council. “I noticed that they have done this in the past and it was done again recently without adequate warning or notification. I currently have several honey bee hives at my property, within two kilometers of the sprayed area … I don’t understand why you would spray a native plant in the first place, and secondly if it didn’t work the first time why do it again?”
Mayor Kathy Moore says the city was spraying at the request of another group in town.
“Generally speaking we only use herbicides on city property when absolutely necessary, like in the case of invasive species, like knotweed,” she told Rossland News. “We got complaints to get rid of it, particularly from the heritage committee, because it’s disrupting some of the grave sites down there.
“I went on autopilot, and thought, ‘it’s invasive, let’s get rid of it, it falls under our policy.'”
Moore admits there may have been some failings from an operational point of view at the city, but they’ve sent it back to staff to review.
“It’s too late now, but we’ll have staff look at it and say we’re going to handle this in a different way,” she said.
The chemical, called glyphosate, is a water-soluble herbicide used for non-selective weed control in agricultural, forestry and landscaping.
While Moore apologizes for its use without giving locals more warning, she says dealing with problem plants in non-chemical ways may be costly.
It’s a notion the city’s CAO affirms.
“The herbicide-pesticide policy explains the fact from operational efficiencies we try to minimize expenses as much as we can, where vegetation management is required to save infrastructure,” says Bryan Teasdale. “So instead of spending three or four times the money, and extra labour, to get less results, we set up this program as a vegetation management program.”
Teasdale says the spraying this year was done according to council policy. He says if council wants to change the policy — for instance declare the city’s operation pesticide or herbicide-free — it would mean a review and figuring the impact of the city’s budget.
It’s all on the back burner for now, in any event. Teasdale says no further spraying is planned this year. Staff are reviewing why the spray program drew complaints this year but not in 2017, and will report back to council in the coming months.