Limited use of herbicides near streams approved

The Planning Commission agreed Tuesday night to allow the use of herbicides near creeks in Ashland, as long as users follow strict specifications.

In a 5-2 vote, the commission approved a number of revisions to the Water Resource Protection Zones Ordinance, and passed their recommendations to the City Council, which will vote on the changes.

Commissioners Michael Dawkins and Dave Dotterrer opposed the changes at the 7 p.m. Civic Center meeting, because they disagreed with the way the commission went about making the amendments, they said.

"I've been all along trying to make a distinction between fish-bearing and intermittent streams and in this, we just put them all together," Dawkins, a plant ecologist, said after the meeting.

Dawkins said he believes people's property rights shouldn't be encroached upon to protect a stream "that's not really supposed to be there anyway," like many of Ashland's intermittent streams.

Dotterrer announced and explained his opposition to the ordinance amendments before he cast his vote.

"I intend to vote no on this," he said. "I don't think that most of the people are going to find this ordinance understandable, comprehendible or implementable.

"This is not how business should be done. I think it's time to change the way we do business." Dotterrer said the commission should involve more input from community members and fashion amendments from the "bottom-up."

Commission Chair John Stromberg, who is now the mayor-elect, said he agreed with many of Dotterrer's complaints about the process, but Stromberg nonetheless voted for the changes.

Commissioners Tom Dimitre and Debbie Miller were absent from the meeting.

The meeting was a continuation of the Oct. 28 study session, when the commission discussed the same issue, but ran out of time.

After much deliberation, the commission came to a consensus on the use of herbicides, based on a compromise Commissioner Melanie Mindlin drew up.

The commission said people should be allowed to use herbicides near creeks to remove invasive plants like blackberries, as long as they are certified professionals, apply for a permit from the city, use only city-approved chemicals and use the herbicide limitedly, for restoration, instead of ongoing maintenance.

People should first try alternative options, like mowing, before breaking out the herbicides, the commission said.

Many members of the commission wanted to ban the use of herbicides near water, because they said the toxins would likely leak into streams, but they decided to compromise after receiving a letter from the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department Director, Don Robertson. He said herbicides help the department to effectively eradicate invasive plants and stay within its budget.

"Currently we use approximately 180 gallons of diluted chemicals per label requirements within areas that would be considered in the riparian ordinance," Robertson wrote.

"In the event that we are no longer able to apply pesticides within these areas, we will either need to change our maintenance standards or increase our labor budget to gain the designed effects," he wrote.

However, in another letter, City Councilor Cate Hartzell, who is a liaison to the commission, urged commissioners to be careful about allowing the use of pesticides and consider allowing an "exception process" for the Parks and Recreation Department.

"Allowing private landowners one type of poison really allows them all, since it's difficult to determine what a private landowner uses. Untrained applicators will inevitably contaminate the waterway," Hartzell wrote.

"This ordinance is about protecting among other things, water quality, quantity and (the) habitat of many species," she wrote.

The commission also clarified what penalties and fines can be levied on people who don't comply with the ordinance. It specified that homeowners who inadvertently don't follow the regulations, and do something minor like "remove a native tree," shouldn't be penalized as severely as people who purposefully infringe on the regulations and commit major violations.

The meeting was one of the last for Stromberg, who will be sworn in as mayor in January. As mayor, Stromberg will appoint a new member to the commission, which will vote to elect one of the commissioners to serve as the new chair.

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