Oregon voters in coastal Lincoln County are considering a ballot measure that would ban aerial spraying of pesticides and herbicides.
It's a practice that became a concern last month for City of Depoe Bay Supervisor Brady Weidner when he found an email in his inbox. It said Hancock Timber was going to spray herbicides from helicopters on a recently logged track near the city’s reservoir within a few days. Weidmar was alarmed because that reservoir supplies water to the small coastal community.
"They left a laundry list of chemicals that could be applied and they left in a toxic cocktail that concerned me quite a bit," he said.
Those chemicals include Roundup and other weed-killers. Weidner and Mayor Barbara Leff wrote to the company. Hancock management came to Depoe Bay for a meeting. Weidner and Leff told the company they were worried chemicals might get into Depoe Bay’s water supply.
"We all rely on these streams to create the raw water to treat and store that we use for drinking water and just having that as, you know, as our only source water here. We don’t, on the coast we don’t have a lot of wells," Weidner said.
Weidner says the company listened to their concerns. Hancock told him after hearing from the city they won’t spray at all on that property near the reservoir.
Backers of Measure 21-177 on the May 16 ballot in Lincoln County say the aerial spraying of herbicides that Hancock was planning should be outlawed.
"The ballot measure is about pesticide spraying from a helicopter, plane or drone," said Rio Davidson with with the group Citizens for a Healthy County. He says the measure uses the word pesticide to refer to both bug-killing and herbicide chemicals.
"So, this measure would make the practice illegal here in Lincoln County. And, we feel that’s really important to protect our watersheds, our children, and our wildlife," Davidson said.
Davidson and fellow supporters are concerned that when pesticides are sprayed from the air, the chemicals can drift to homes and waterways, affecting people and the environment. The Eugene organization Beyond Toxics has documented stories of Oregonians who’ve experienced health problems after their homes were sprayed by chemicals that drift from adjacent properties. Davidson and other measure backers say they want to stop that from happening in their county.
The measure has drawn opposition from timber companies and others who say it’s poorly written.
Alan Fujishin is director of the Coalition to defeat Measure 21-177. He and his wife have a blueberry farm near Siletz, in Lincoln County. He says there are plenty of laws around aerial pesticide spraying.
"In terms of regulation, I think our state agencies are doing the best job with the information they have to make sure that both the public is protected and that we have those tools available to ensure public health on our public and private lands," Fujishin said.
Fujishin says the ballot measure doesn’t adequately define aerial spraying.
"It’s defined in the measure as any aerial method and that, in our view, could include any method that allows spray particles to move through the air, including our ground powered and hand powered sprayer technologies," he said.
Supporters of the measure say it applies to aerial pesticides sprayed from airplanes, helicopters and drones. But, Fujishin says that isn't made clear in the measure's actual language.
"So that term would have to be further defined," he said.
Fujishin is also troubled by language in the measure which establishes “local rights” and authorizes, “direct action by person if county or courts fail to enforce law.” That provision has also raised concern from Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers, who has appeared on local radio ads urging voters to reject the measure.
"This measure is a real threat to our public safety. It allows anybody to take the law into their own hands to enforce these new regulations and grants legal immunity to any actions, even criminal ones," he says in the spot.
Maria Souse is with Citizens for a Healthy County, which supports the measure.
"That’s one of the things that our ordinance does, our measure, is bring the people into this whole picture, with rights, with legal rights to say something about their health and safety, which is something that, constitutionally, government is supposed to insure for them," she said.
The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and the Newport City Council oppose measure 21-177. The City Council of Yachats supports it.
Lincoln County voters have until May 16 to vote.