County to Ban All Herbicide Use by 2024

November 20, 2019, 5:22 PM HST (Updated November 20, 2019, 5:31 PM)
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Councilmember Rebecca Villegas.

The Hawai‘i County Council voted Wednesday afternoon to ban the use of herbicides on any County managed or maintained property — including parks, roadways and waterways — beginning in 2024.

Bill 101, sponsored by Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, includes a list of soon-to-be-banned chemicals and lays out alternative methods by which the areas in question will be maintained such as manual vegetation removal, mechanical removal and the use of biological means of removal like goat or sheep.

The new law will not apply to agricultural land or private property, even if that property is adjacent to County easements.

The measure passed its final vote by a count of 6-3. Joining Villegas in support of the bill were Councilmembers Valerie Poindexter, Ashley Kierkiewicz, Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, Maile David and Karen Eoff.

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“My job, I feel, is to protect the citizens and the kids that use our parks and facilities,” David said.

Councilmembers opposing the measure were Aaron Chung, Susan Lee Loy and Dr. Tim Richards.

“I’m not comfortable with the list (of banned chemicals) that’s been provided,” Chung said. “I don’t know what they are, that’s all.”

The previous vote on Bill 101 held earlier this month was an 8-1 tally, with the swing Wednesday coming from Chung and Lee Loy, who each represent portions of Hilo. The two focused much of their conversation on a proposed exemption for the Hilo Municipal Golf Course, which was not included in the final draft of the measure. Chung said the course really only needs selective poisoning to treat the greens.

Richards, the lone “no” vote from the Council meeting on Nov. 6, again referenced concern that moving the County away from herbicides now might lay the groundwork for forcing the agriculture sector off necessary pesticides down the line.

“A categorical denial of some of the tools that we need I can’t support at this time,” he said.

Councilman Richards also brought up the issue of cost associated with the transition away from herbicides, which County department heads have estimated will be significant.

Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen projected she’d need to hire another 400 employees to manage vegetation at County parks, estimating an average salary of nearly $40,000 per position. David Yamamoto, director of Public Works, has said costs will increase for his department, though he doesn’t know yet by how much.

Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder was incredulous toward Waltjen’s claim that she’d need to add 400 people to the payroll to, as he put it, “cut grass.”

Part of the bill includes the establishment of a vegetation management transition committee to monitor and report on the progress of the transition. That will keep the Council in tune with cost increases and allow them to mitigate any expenditures that become problematic, he said.

“Until I see something absolutely detrimental to taxpayers of this County, I can’t say no to this bill because (cost) could be a problem,” Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder continued. “We’re talking about the health of our County.”

Poindexter also gave voice to health concerns, some of which may entangle with County funds in the future. Getting ahead of potential workers compensation claims from County employees exposed to chemicals like Roundup, which has been linked to the development of cancer in people frequently exposed to it, is good for the health and pocketbook of the community both now and in the future, she said.

Referencing misuse/overuse of herbicide products, Poindexter said, “We need to put our foot down and say no more.”

During the transition years, County departments are directed to take steps to decrease the use of herbicides, as well as keep records of when, where and how much herbicides are used. When a soon-to-be-banned chemical is used, signage to indicate that fact must be put up at the site and other stipulations followed in accordance with the new law.

The County can also file for a temporary exemption to use herbicides in the case of emergency circumstances, which are outlined in the bill.

Max Dible
Max Dible is a reporter for Big Island Now. He will also serve in a news capacity for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter and radio talk show personality with the Iowa State Daily and KURE 88.5 FM, respectively, in Ames, Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing and his work as a sports columnist.
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