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Bill banning Roundup yanked

A bill aimed at finding alternatives to Monsanto Co.’s Roundup and other nonorganic weed killers was facing certain death Tuesday at the County Council Environmental Management Committee when it swiftly was uprooted by sponsor Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille.

With only three other council members — North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David and Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter — willing to let her postpone Bill 71 for more work, Wille withdrew the measure, saving it to return another day.

“I support the idea that we restrict chemical spraying at our county facilities,” David said. “I think that should be our goal.”

Wille advocated an organic alternative herbicide known as Avenger, which is based on citrus oil. She said the state Department of Transportation is testing the formula on roads on Maui.

Avenger costs $68 a gallon, compared to glyphosate-based Roundup’s $17.60 per gallon, and it requires 21.3 ounces per gallon of water to spray, compared to 2.6 ounces for Roundup, said Parks and Recreation Director Clayton Honma. He said the county is conducting a pilot program at Queen Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo.

“Cost-wise, it’s really expensive to run the Avenger,” Honma said.

Public Works Director Warren Lee estimated banning Roundup would add $2 million to $5 million to his annual budget for keeping roadways and flood channels clear of weeds. Some 60 to 65 percent of maintenance on more than 1,000 miles of roadside is done with mowers, another 10 percent manually and 25 to 30 percent with herbicides, he said.

“It’s a significant impact on us,” Lee said.

Wille pushed for what she called “a can-do attitude and not a no-can-do attitude.”

“There’s short-term costs, and then there’s the long-term health costs,” she said, adding that a systemic toxin can take a long time to show its effects. “It’s not as though you have a glaring illness and fall over sick the next day.”

Hilo councilmen Dennis “Fresh” Onishi and Aaron Chung, and Puna councilmen Greggor Ilagan and Danny Paleka indicated they would vote against the bill, saying there’s no proof Roundup is less safe than other weed killers.

“I believe the county should not be prohibited from using Roundup as a useful way to control weeds on our island,” Chung said.

Ilagan invited Renee Pinel, president of Sacramento, Calif.-based Western Plant Health Association, an advocacy group of fertilizer and crop protection companies, to address the committee. The association scheduled its annual meeting for Oct. 4 on Maui.

“Glyphosate does not pose a safety risk,” Pinel said, adding users should follow the label instructions and especially avoid getting it in their eyes.

She said more than 7,000 studies have been conducted on glyphosate. She said citrus oil is no less toxic than glyphosate.

Council Chairman Dru Kanuha, of Kona, cast the final dissenting vote, saying the administration should concentrate more on training and application procedures to ensure herbicides are used safely.

“I’m looking at the bigger spectrum,” Kanuha said. “What is dangerous and what isn’t dangerous?”

Bill 71 would have banned glyphosate, 2, 4-Dichloro-phenoxyacetic, atrazine, dioxin, picloram, bipyridinium, diphenyl ether and tyrosine breakdown products from county-owned or -maintained roads, bikeways, sidewalks, trails, waterways and parks.

The list also included all herbicide products that bear a signal label of “dangerous,” “warning,” “toxic to fish” or “toxic to fish and wildlife” or that indicate a risk of groundwater contamination. Herbicide products with only a signal label of “caution” would have been allowed under the bill.

About 50 people testified, mostly in favor, when the bill first came up earlier this month.

Several council members wanted to create a task force to study alternatives to Roundup, but that concept was nixed by the majority opposing the bill.

“It’s too damn divisive,” Chung said of a task force, warning the council could get into “appeasement mode, and then the next thing you know we just enable things to get out of hand.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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