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County defends herbicide use on roads

County defends herbicide use on roads

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By Scott Sullivan

Editor

The Allegan County Road Commission has responded to Saugatuck Township concerns about county use of Roundup to kill weeds near guardrails.

Resident James Brandess raised concerns about sprayings of the herbicide, whose active ingredient glyphosate has been classified by the World Health Organization as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” at the Sept. 4 township board meeting.

Board members Stacey Aldrich, citizen Donna Leonard and others there echoed his concerns and asked the township to seek more information at the road commission’s next meeting Sept. 18.

ACRC Managing Director Craig Atwood responded in a Sept. 25 letter included in the township’s Oct. 2 meeting packet.

The commission, he said, uses mostly mechanical methods of vegetation control within road rights-of-way under its jurisdiction. These include roadside mowing and brush chopping. The use of herbicides is limited to guardrail spraying and invasive species, mostly Japanese knotweed.

Atwood explained the quantity, type and available equipment and manpower dictate which vegetation-management practices are used.

“Due to the difficulty maintaining the vegetation around guardrails,” he said, “we’ve utilized herbicides instead of hand trimming.

“With approximately 37 miles of guardrail in 683 locations, we don’t have the manpower to do this by hand and the use of herbicides is a cost-effective solution. Invasive species control must be done with herbicides, as mechanical methods result in further spreading of the species,” Atwood said.

Guardrail locations are sprayed once per year and invasive species as they are found, said the ACRC director.

In Saugatuck Township, the commission does not spray guardrail along Lakeshore Drive due to erosion risk. Other locations are scattered around the township.

The county requires spraying contactors, in this case Right Way Control Services of Zeeland, to be state-licensed and follow all laws governing use of herbicides along public roadways.

The herbicides used, said Atwood, are legally allowed, with recommendations for post-application exposure varying with the type used. In general, once the vegetation is dry after spraying, the exposure risk is very minimal, he said.

Notifications of roadside herbicide spraying are not required, said Atwood, and the ACRC does not require them of its contractors.

Countywide, no concerns or feedback have been received for the past two years about use of herbicides other than from Brandess this year.

“The ACRC feels strongly,” said Atwood, “that the vegetation around guardrails needs to be maintained, and with limited resources for this work the use of herbicides is the most cost-effective solution. If the township board doesn’t want herbicides used, we would allow them to utilize an approved contractor to do the work mechanically.

“As mentioned to Mr. Brandess,” his letter went on, “we are revising our specifications to eliminate spraying in areas maintained by homeowners. We would require vegetation to be cut a minimum of one foot below, one foot back and four feet above guardrail.

“We don’t have an application process for a homeowner to opt out of this, but intend to not spray areas that are maintained,” Atwood said.