Herbicide rules raise concerns
A local conservation group is working with Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott to address the potential use of herbicides and pesticides on state lands.
In response to a recent change in state law that eliminates public review and a Department of Environmental Conservation permitting requirement for using chemicals on state land, Lynn Canal Conservation is asking the borough to consider how it can protect itself from the potential ill effects of herbicides and pesticides near waterways and in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
LCC member Thom Ely contacted the borough recently to ask for introduction of an ordinance that would prohibit the spraying of pesticides and herbicides along roadways and adjacent to bodies of water in the borough.
“Alaska is known for its pristine environment and healthy, wild fish. Since many of our local fish spawn and rear in the waterways adjacent to the roadways, this is especially important. Keeping our local water free of chemicals that adversely affect the environment is an issue that everyone can support,” Ely said.
LCC board member Mario Benassi said LCC is watching to see what happens with a similar ordinance being considered by the Petersburg Borough Assembly, because the Haines Borough could simply take Petersburg’s lead. “It seems like there’s momentum in that direction and we want to encourage the assembly to make steps in that direction,” Benassi said.
A question Petersburg is tackling right now concerns the legality of such an ordinance: would a municipality be able to override a state agency, essentially telling the state what it can and can’t do on its own land? Haines Mayor Stephanie Scott said she isn’t sure.
“I just don’t know whether the municipality can overcome a state regulation. I don’t know whether they can do that,” she said.
Ely said he’d just as soon let Petersburg do the legal investigation on the issue. “If Petersburg decides that they can do it, the Haines Borough should file suit and do the same thing.”
About a decade ago, DOT proposed to spray herbicide around the guardrails along the Haines Highway, Ely recalled. The resulting public outcry caused DOT to back off and continue handling the weed problem without chemicals, Ely said.
Pat Carroll, DOT’s design chief for Southeast, said DOT isn’t using any herbicides or pesticides in Southeast at this time, nor are there plans to use chemicals on the impending improvements to the Haines Highway.
“We don’t use it in Southeast at all, and certainly as part of this construction, project we wouldn’t be using them,” Carroll said.
LCC treasurer Scott Carey said that while the threat of spraying may not be imminent, it’s prudent to create legislation or policy that would prevent future use.
“We would hope common sense will rule on this given the fact that we all love salmon, but you never know. When we’re depending on the kindness of others you know how it goes. If there’s not some law in place, then how does it play out? That’s the problem,” Carey said.
Scott said she wants to see whether the Petersburg ordinance will prove legal before pushing legislation in Haines. In the meantime, she suggested drafting a letter to DOT expressing concern about the relaxation of the regulations and the borough’s desire not to have chemicals sprayed along the highway.