Update on County’s roadside spraying program

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Talk to the hand, ‘cuz the face ain’t listenin’: Lanark County’s stance on roadside spraying

By Theresa Peluso

Back in the ’90s, this was a saying in vogue with teenagers, used to dismiss whatever their parents or teachers were saying.  And here’s why I can’t seem to get it out of my head.

Lanark County started roadside spraying two years ago.  Arguing that Ontario had declared wild parsnip to be a noxious weed, they immediately decided to control it by spraying their roadsides with chemicals.  There were other options:  timing their annual roadside mowing to reduce the spread of wild parsnip; implementing a public education program on identifying and dealing with this plant; or simply using a complaint-driven approach.  But the lure of chemicals was just too strong. Lanark County spent over $50,000 last year to spray chemicals with unknown effects on our roadsides.  Perhaps they wanted to emulate the United Counties of Stormont Dundas and Glengarry, who have sprayed chemicals for 9 years, and are still going at it.

Concerned residents immediately protested. Physicians with experience in pesticide-related illnesses; retirees with environment-related degrees and experience in assessing collateral damage from pesticides; organic farmers and beekeepers; people with chemical sensitivities; property owners concerned about water-contamination because of Lanark County’s porous bedrock and abundant wetlands and water courses: They all wrote letters and emails to the County councillors, setting out valid, factual reasons why Lanark County should stop roadside spraying.  All to no avail. They were just “talkin’ to the hand”.  Although some councillors were responsive to the pleas of their constituents, the pro-pesticide majority prevailed.

Still, last year there was one faint ray of hope – the option to get a No-Spray sign from Lanark County to exempt your roadside (if you lived on a county road) from spraying. This option was so poorly advertised by Lanark County that concerned volunteers took it on themselves to create, pay for and publish an ad (in The Humm) to let people know that they could apply for one of these signs – only token protection against spraying, but better than nothing.  Other volunteers put up posters, and delivered flyers to residents on roads that were to be sprayed.  The outcome?  Approximately 650 No-Spray signs lined the various county roads in Lanark County last summer.  People were using what little power they had to affirm their rights to a healthy and safe environment.

Then, late last fall, dozens of environmentalists tried yet again to stop roadside spraying with numerous delegations and letters to County council.  They also offered to help staff find safer and more sustainable ways to manage noxious weeds by adopting a road and remediating roadsides denuded by chemical spraying.  This gesture of goodwill was then subverted.  Here’s how.

Shortly before Lanark County council’s April 12 meeting, councillors received their agenda.  Much mention was made of the County’s new Adopt-A-Road program, which seemed linked to what the environmentalists were advocating.  Only through careful questioning was it revealed that this new program was REPLACING the No-Spray sign policy.  The pro-environment councillors were completely surprised by this manoeuver.

So, on April 12 the County replaced the sign option with an Adopt-A-Road policy.  It enables you to manage the spread of the wild parsnip on a county-owned section of roadside.  What’s wrong with that? It sounds progressive — until you look at the details.

To adopt a county road, here are just some of the requirements to which you must agree:

  • Complete and submit an Adopt-A-Road Program Agreement. You need to be part of a group of at least three people. IF you are deemed to meet the County’s conditions, you MAY be approved.
  • Have the County pick for you an adoptable stretch of road, a MINIMUM of 2 km long.
  • Commit to an adoption of two years.
  • Pick up litter on your adopted stretch at least twice a year, in the spring and fall. Also, sort the collected litter into four different categories (glass, plastic, metal and “other”). (WHAT does this have to do with weed management!)
  • Give the County office 72 hours notice prior to starting a program activity and immediately after each activity.
  • Remove and control invasive plants and noxious weeds (specific plants not named).
  • Comply with the Adopt-A-Road insurance requirements, and release the County of responsibility for any injuries or damages that you may suffer.
  • Have your adopted section monitored by the County to make sure they’re happy with your work.
  • Restrict work on your roadside to weekdays during daylight hours.

Compare this with the No-Spray sign option, where one or more individuals could take responsibility for their county road frontage and manage wild parsnip whenever and however they deemed appropriate.

We’ve now been left with even LESS than before, as if that was possible.

Spraying pesticides on County roadsides has replaced the vibrant beauty of our roadsides with dead vegetation, and has destabilized our environment by harming our pollinators, creating chemically-resistant weeds, and putting our water at risk.  Our councillors have been impassive and evasive in response to entreaties from residents and advice from reputable experts, and are continuing to spend taxpayer money on this damaging activity.  Effectively, we’re just “talkin’ to the hand”.

We owe it to our health and our environment not to give up, though!  Please share your concerns by emailing our County councillors, care of the County Clerk (ldrynan@lanarkcounty.ca).  Also, visit friendsoflanarkcounty.wordpress.com for background and updates on this issue.