This story has been updated to include a statement from the WCRC.
By Lonnie Huhman,
The Washtenaw County Road Commission received plenty of public input in the lead up to a decision it made at its July 16 meeting.
After hearing over an hours-worth of public comments from county residents at that meeting as well as hearing even more at its previous July meeting, and after receiving plenty of written communications and seeing resolutions passed by some local governing boards in support of the public concerns, the WCRC Board by a unanimous vote made the decision to terminate the program that began in 2017.
The WCRC’s approved motion read, “that upon the recommendation of the Managing Director, the Board hereby terminates the roadside herbicide spraying contract and abstains from the use of herbicides as a part of the WCRC roadside vegetation control program.”
The program began as a four-year herbicide spraying contract with the intent of spraying one-quarter of the county rights-of-way each year. The program this year was supposed to spray Lyndon, Dexter, Webster, Sylvan and Lima townships.
Both Webster and Sylvan Township Boards passed resolutions expressing their dissatisfaction with the spraying program.
The board of county road commissioners did not offer any of their own comments prior to their vote, but in a room of around 50 or so county residents, around 20 people did express their concerns and questions.
One area of concern is how might the spraying chemicals impact ground water and other water sources?
Dexter Township resident Pat Thompson said he has avoided using herbicides on his property in part because of the culverts and connections on his property to a neighboring lake. He suggested rather than spraying to improve safety on roads they should instead lower the speed limits.
Various residents said they were concerned about the how the spraying chemicals might destroy the wildflowers that grow on their roads sides; lead to serious issues for the people, insects and animals that live alongside them; drift over to properties that did opt-out of the program and diminish the beauty of the scenic country roads.
Some other issues raised included what might the aftermath of the spraying do to erosion and run-off from the road while others said they were disappointed about the communication or lack there of about the program. At least a few public speakers said they still hadn’t heard about the program until the past few days.
These were just some of the concerns expressed during the nearly 90 minute public comments.
In her public comment, Lima Township resident Susan Filipiak echoed many others by saying she was concerned about the potential harm to insects and animals, wild flowers and trees, people and their pets that walk the rural roads. She wrapped up her comments by strongly urging the WCRC to terminate the program.
After the WCRC board cast its vote, the meeting room filled with applause while some said, “thank you.”
The WCRC has stated the program was part of its four-pronged approach to maintaining vegetation along county road rights-of-way, which by law it must maintain this area of the roads for the safety of motorists and other road users.
The plan’s goal is to control of roadside vegetation to keep the right-of-way reasonably clear and ensure safety, clear vision, prevent obstructions to the traveled portion of the roadway, maintain proper drainage and accommodate winter maintenance operations.
The spraying program included an opt-out component whereby a property owner may request that the county road right-of-way abutting their property not be sprayed. Under the opt-out provision, the property owner is required to clear the county road right-of-way abutting their property of weeds and brush.
In a statement released on July 16, the WCRC said, “After hearing numerous concerns from local elected bodies and members of the community over the past few weeks, the Washtenaw County Board of County Road Commissioners voted today, July 16, 2019, to terminate the herbicide spraying program, effective immediately. This vote means that WCRC will not spray herbicide along rural county road rights-of-way in Lyndon, Dexter, Webster, Sylvan or Lima Townships or any other Washtenaw County township, this year or in the future.”
The WCRC said, “Maintaining the roadside continues to be a priority for WCRC but it will now rely on the other tools of the Roadside Vegetation Control Program as resources allow, including, mechanical brush mowing (boom mowing) and roadside mowing.”
The statement ended by saying, “If you have already helped clear the road right-of-way abutting your property of encroaching vegetation – thank you. We appreciate your assistance in this important task and hope for your continued partnership in maintaining the roadside.”