Local DOT unsure about herbicide use
A new Alaska Department of Transportation vegetation management plan which makes it easier for the state to spray herbicides and pesticides on state land and right-of-ways has the local DOT foreman scratching his head over whether and how to use the chemicals.
Matt Boron, DOT’s maintenance and operations manager for Haines, said he attended a conference in Anchorage Oct. 7-11 for DOT maintenance and operations managers statewide. The conference included a presentation on the state’s new Integrated Vegetation Management Plan (IVMP), which came into effect late this summer and allows the use of four kinds of herbicides – certain types of AquaMaster, Roundup, Habitat, and Garlon 3A.
When asked whether the plan means herbicides will be used to control vegetation around Haines, Boron said he didn’t know. “It would come down to whether I wanted to do that or not. I haven’t really wrapped my head around that.”
“There’s so much environmental concern in Haines, I don’t anticipate trying to spray along the Chilkat River. The most I might consider is using it in a limited way at the airport, because we have so much grass and clover that grows up around the runway lights. That’s just off the top of my head,” Boron said.
Mike Coffey, DOT’s chief of statewide maintenance and operations, said the department was technically allowed to use the herbicides previously, but it was inefficient due to extensive regulation by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
“We were (allowed), but it was very involved and costly – the Alaska Railroad spent like $500,000 in just the public process part – and it was not very feasible to go through that process,” Coffey said.
Following a relaxation of DEC regulations enacted this spring, state agencies no longer need a permit or public comment period to spray herbicides or pesticides on state land or in right-of-ways. That’s why DOT’s new management plan now specifically addresses herbicides, as the agency intends to start using the chemicals in “selective” and “targeted” ways, Coffey said.
“Basically, the IVMP gives us access to a new tool, which is the use of herbicides. Mechanical is and will continue to be our primary method of vegetation control. However, where we have invasive species, where we have safety concerns, where it is in the best interest of the public in terms of cost, is where we will be looking at spraying,” he said.
Coffey couldn’t say where the Haines area would fall in terms of weighing those three factors: invasive species, safety concern, and cost effectiveness.
“We have no specific, hard plans in Haines, but again, we are looking statewide where we’re going to be most effective and where we’re potentially going to use them down the road,” he said.
At the IVMP presentation Boron attended in Anchorage, DEC’s pesticide control program coordinator Karin Hendricksen told DOT employees about the recent regulatory and permitting changes which make it less complicated for DOT to spray on state property.
Hendricksen said DEC loosened the regulations because the extra paperwork for the agencies was too burdensome. “It was a lot of processing without eliminating any risk. It was a paperwork process that had no real value,” she said.
“If you can go out and buy this stuff and spray it in your yard and do it safely and legally, there is no added value in making an agency go through this big process,” Hendricksen said.
Agencies still must prepare and submit a plan to DEC, she said, and consider preventative measures. In the plan, they outline what product they are using, how they are using it, and why spraying is the best method to use for the area, Hendricksen said.
The agency must also post a 30-day notice prior to spraying.
While she understands some citizens’ objection to the elimination of the public comment process, she doesn’t think inclusion of the process in any way eliminated the actual risk to the public.
“People do have a lot of opinions about pesticides, but the fact that people don’t like an idea doesn’t mean it is unsafe or illegal. We have to make our decisions based on scientific facts,” Hendricksen said.
Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott said she is “baffled” by DEC’s reasoning in loosening the regulations and is worried about its future impact on Haines. “They’ve made the argument that if private people don’t have to have a permit, why does the state need to have a permit? They are overlooking scale... Why are people persisting in overlooking the scale of the impact? I don’t understand that.”
On Oct. 8, the assembly voted to authorize Scott to vote in favor of a resolution up for passage at the Oct. 22 Southeast Conference of Mayors meeting. The draft resolution asks for DOT and DEC to meet with representatives from several Southeast communities to discuss the impacts of herbicides along the region’s roadways. It also asks that the public comment process be restored.
Scott said especially since Haines is dependent on its fishing industry to bolster the economy and its residents are very dependent on the environment for food, even the perception of pesticide and herbicide usage near waterways would be of concern to the community.
“I believe that if pesticides and herbicides are used and have any opportunity or perception of migrating into the fish habitat, it will be deleterious to the marketing of Alaskan salmon,” Scott said.
While there are no current plans to spray near Haines and DOT officials have previously said they don’t intend to spray here in the immediate future, Scott said that isn’t good enough.
“It doesn’t matter what they say. It’s what they can do. The problem is these new regulations allow them to spray after publishing a 30-day notification and marking the places where they spray, but the public has no avenue to comment, protest, whatever. It’s giving them carte blanche to do as they please,” she said.
The state owns 32 percent of land in the Haines Borough.