By Lonnie Huhman,
After hearing a lot of concerns from citizens and seeing a request from the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, the Washtenaw County Road Commission will take another look at its roadside herbicide spraying program.
On July 10, before a full meeting room of county residents, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution requesting, “That the Washtenaw County Road Commission immediately and permanently abstain from the use of herbicides to control the growth of vegetation within the roadside right-of-way, and to instead to use reasonable alternatives which will not cause irreparable damage.”
The resolution also stated, “Be it further resolved that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners offers its full support and cooperation for the development of a roadside vegetation control program that provides for a reasonably safe roadside right-of-way without the use of herbicides, and which reflects the concerns and interests of those who live among and alongside the roads affected by this program.”
In 2017, according to the WCRC it entered into, “a four-year herbicide spraying contract with the intent of spraying one-quarter of the county rights-of-way each year. 2019 is the third year of this four-year contract. The herbicide spraying program includes 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.”
Spraying was scheduled to begin after Aug. 1.
The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners resolution stated the county board of commissioners is responsible for the appointment of the three members of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, which is responsible for the maintenance and construction of public roads within Washtenaw County, including all primary and local roads outside of city and village limits.
It also said both the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and the Washtenaw County Road Commission exist to provide services with the consent and for the benefit of the residents of Washtenaw County.
The spraying concerns were also brought before the WCRC at its July 2 meeting, which also saw a full room of concerned citizens.
In follow up to the county commissioners’ resolution vote, The Sun Times News contacted the WCRC.
Emily Kizer, WCRC spokeswoman, said, “The Washtenaw County Board of County Road Commissioners is paying close attention to public concerns raised at their July 2 board meeting and by other elected bodies within Washtenaw County over the past few weeks, including Webster Township, Sylvan Township and the Board of County Commissioners. It is likely that the road commission board will be deliberating on the appropriate response to these concerns at the July 16 regular road commission board meeting.”
The WCRC will meet at 1 p.m. on July 16. This story was published prior to this meeting, so The Sun Times News expects to do a follow up story.
According to the WCRC’s July 16 meeting packet, a proposed motion about the spraying will be put forth that states, “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 county board of commissioners July 10 vote came after nearly 90 minutes of public comment in which every speaker voiced their concerns over the program. Many who spoke were Webster Township residents.
Webster Township Board Trustee John Scharf was the first to speak during public comment. He said he and the township board have heard loud and clear how Webster’s residents feel about the program, and they are overwhelmingly against it happening along their roads. This led the township board to request the WCRC, to in part, at least delay the spraying for a year as the township seeks more information on the program.
“I have personally heard from hundreds of citizens and they are unanimous in their expression to me in their opposition to herbicide spraying,” he said and added there is one instance where someone is for it and that’s because that resident cannot clear the vegetation herself nor can afford to have it done.
Scharf and others who spoke during public comment expressed their deep concerns over the chemicals being used and how the synergistic affect could have a negative impact on things beyond the vegetation, including on insects, such as bees, the water, animals and people in the area.
It was noted by some of the speakers that one of chemicals, Tordon, that would be used in the spraying was part of a mixture used during the Vietnam War called Agent White that aided in the deforestation effort there and was part of the group of “rainbow herbicides” which included Agent Orange, which itself carries a history of causing diseases such as various cancers.
Sheila Palkoski, a Webster Township resident, was one who noted Tordon’s past use and urged the county board of commissioners to please help them stop the spraying program.
Webster resident Jean Wallace said she was also strongly opposed to the program being used anywhere in the county. She said she was surprised the program was being used and noted other issues caused by chemicals such as the Gelman plume in Scio Township, which is impacting the water in the Ann Arbor area, to PFAS chemicals being an issue in different parts of the state.
Wallace said she was also disappointed in the WCRC’s roll out of the program. She said many residents feel bullied and don’t feel they were properly informed of the program, which was a common sentiment among the speakers.
The county board of commissioners all expressed their understanding of the citizens concerns.
County commissioner Shannon Beeman said she heard similar concerns last year in Lodi Township after the spraying happened. Both she and county commissioner Sue Shink said they wanted the citizens to know they hear their concerns and that the county commission is committed to keeping their well-being and safety a priority.
The county commissioners’ resolution said, “Numerous residents and community groups have expressed concern to County Commissioners and staff about the planned application of herbicides as a vegetation control mechanism, including the public notification of these herbicides and the health and environmental impacts of such application, and the irreparable damage caused through application of these chemicals.”