Williams ready for new fight against spraying chemicals

The Associated Press

WILLIAMS — An issue that led residents of this Southern Oregon community to lie in front of trucks almost two decades ago has returned.

The Josephine County Public Works Department is looking to use herbicides to combat grass and weeds along roads. But residents who gathered for a meeting at the Williams Grange one night this week said that's unacceptable.

"We have to stop it now," said Daryl Jackson, who sounded the alarm among anti-chemical residents when he noticed a county truck spraying at a gravel pit last week.

Though the county was at the pit, Jeff Wheaton, the roads superintendent, said it doesn't plan to spray roads without first having "conversations" with the community. Wheaton hasn't forgotten the battles of the late 1980s, when he wore a flak jacket to Williams and had to dodge the rocks that were thrown when the county arrived to spray.

The dispute was resolved with a no-spray policy. In return, members of the community would pull weeds by hand. Similar agreements were made for Wonder, Wilderville and Takilma, where far less road mileage is involved than in Williams.

Over the years, manual removal has become sporadic. And as the weeds and grass build up, they hold water that wicks underneath the road grade, causing damage.

Wheaton told the Grants Pass Daily Courier that the county is paying $30,000 for mowing every summer, compared to a maximum cost of $2,000 if it was to spray. "Basically, the county has been like the good neighbor, saying we'll honor (the policy)," Wheaton said. "It's gotten to the point where maintenance costs too much."

Wheaton said one option could be to avoid spraying in areas close to waterways.

But those at Wednesday's meeting were steadfastly against chemicals. They said some alternatives could include obtaining grants to pay for mowing and resuming volunteer work.

"I think there's an alternative," said Alysia Gaye, who has researched non-chemical control of weeds. "We don't have to keep poisoning our environment, our community, our children and our waterways."

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