Local speaks out against herbicide spraying
Petersburg resident, Barry Bracken, addressed the Petersburg Borough Assembly to request an ordinance against the spraying of herbicides and pesticides in the Borough area Monday afternoon.
Bracken returned to Petersburg several weeks ago to find that the Governor’s Office had adopted regulations to allow state agencies to apply herbicides and pesticides on state property and rights of way without obtaining permits from the Department of Environmental Conservation and without any public review.
“This denies our citizens the right to participate in the decision making process regarding whether or not to protect our drinking water, our aquatic habitat, protect traditional food gathering areas from contamination and to protect our pets and children from harmful, possible carcinogenic, toxins,” Bracken stated. “These regulations were adopted despite widespread opposition across the state.”
According to Bracken, the people of Alaska, collectively, own the public water supply and fish and wildlife resources.
“We should have a voice regarding if and when there are any plans that may negatively impact our resources,” Bracken said. “The 30 day notification requirement prior to application that was adopted allows for no public input and this falls way short of providing the citizens a voice.”
He explained that Alaska markets its wild salmon to the world touting the pristine waters. Applying toxic chemicals to the habitat would certainly make that a questionable claim. Spraying the uplands could negatively impact productivity of local salmon streams.
“Many outlying residents rely on surface runoff and small streams for drinking water,” Bracken stated. “There is no way to protect those systems. On our island reinforced ecosystem, anything applied to the land is rapidly washed into the waterways and eventually to the salt water by the rain.”
Bracken also stated that several years ago the Department of Transportation announced plans to spray herbicides to control plant growth along Mitkof Highway.
“The people of Petersburg expressed strong opposition and that program was stopped before it got started,” Bracken stated. “I, as a local resident, am more concerned that there would be toxic residue that would contaminate residential runoff based water supplies and run into aquatic habitats that could impact fish productivity.”
The Alaska Department of Transportation went back to mowing the roadsides and although it is more labor intensive, it has kept the vegetation down and kept toxic chemicals out of the waters.
Bracken questioned if the Borough has the authority to counteract the new policy at the state level.
“Article 10, Section 11 of the Alaska Constitution provides that a home rule Borough or City may exercise all legislative power not prohibited by law or charter,” Bracken stated. “Adoption of a home rule charter promotes maximum local self government to the greatest extent possible.”
According to Bracken, adopting an ordinance protecting the primary industry and the residents from toxic contamination should easily fall within the rights of self determination and self government.
“I feel strongly that it is in the best interest of the citizens of the Borough for the Assembly to adopt an ordinance that would protect our citizens and our waterways from large scale applications of herbicides and pesticides on any lands within the Borough boundaries,” Bracken said. “The best option would be to adopt an ordinance that totally bans any applications of large scale applications of herbicides and pesticides and a fall back would be to at least require a public review process and approval by the Assembly before applications of herbicides and pesticides could occur.”
Bracken offered to assist the Assembly and staff in drafting an ordinance insuring that the residents of the Borough and the Borough Assembly has a strong voice in deciding whether poisons are applied to lands within the Borough.
Petersburg Borough Assembly member Sue Flint suggested sending a letter to the state as well in protest of this spraying.
“It would be fine if we take care of our Borough,” Flint said. “But the whole state is in danger with this spraying.”
Flint also said that she was frustrated that this issue has come up again when it was opposed before.
The Petersburg Borough Assembly unanimously approved the writing of an ordinance banning the large scale spraying of herbicides and pesticides in the boundaries of the Borough and it will be placed on the agenda for the first reading at the next Borough Assembly meeting June 17.