Resolution to Reduce County Herbicide Use Introduced by Councilmembers

January 31, 2020, 12:27 PM HST (Updated January 31, 2020, 12:27 PM)
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Ashley Kierkiewicz

Two Hawai‘i County Councilmembers who voted against banning the use of all herbicides on county-maintained property have introduced a resolution to “reduce herbicide use” to “the greatest extent possible,” citing public opinion on the issue.

Councilmembers Ashley Kierkiewicz and Sue Lee Loy introduced Resolution No. 475-20, announced by a Council press release Friday. The measure would most notably call on Mayor Harry Kim to create a vegetation management advisory commission, which would be tasked with delivering its findings and recommendations to the Council by Dec. 7, 2020, with the hopes of offering input toward the county’s 2020-21 operating budget.

The commission would be asked to make at least semi-annual reports to the Council for every year of its existence. The resolution does not specify reduction goals or spell out any measures for how the county might reduce the use of herbicides “to the minimum amount necessary, as a tool of last resort,” leaving those determinations to the would-be commission members.

Friday’s proposal is the latest in a political back and forth pitting concerns over public health against arguments involving cost-effectiveness and fears from farmers that the legislation would set a precedent that could one day spill over into the agriculture industry.

Bill No. 101 was introduced by Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas last year. Had it become law, the bill would have banned by 2024 the use of all herbicides containing any one of 23 active ingredients on the 65 parks and playgrounds, 39 beaches and the variety of other properties managed by the county, including areas around public roads and waterways.

After passing its final reading by a vote of 6-3 in November, Mayor Kim promptly vetoed the bill, citing a number of concerns including questions over jurisdiction for herbicide use, a lack of definitions in the legislation and the management protocols called for during the transition period between 2020 and 2024.

In January, the Council had an opportunity to override Kim’s decision by mustering the same amount of support, six votes, by which the original legislation passed.

The Council failed to gain the supermajority needed to upend the mayor’s decision, falling a vote shy of overturning the veto with a tally of 5-4.

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The swing vote came from Kierkiewicz, who initially supported the legislation but had a change of heart in the roughly seven weeks between votes.

“We’re coming to find out now there were opportunities missed to hit the pause button … to address concerns and build consensus,” Kierkiewicz said at the time, adding she wanted to “protect her children from imperfect laws” and “do things the right way.”

“This resolution puts health and safety of our keiki and environment at the forefront,” Kierkiewicz said in Friday’s press release. “We are creating a space that ensures collaborative, coordinated and responsible policymaking.”

Other Councilmembers argued earlier this month that the best way to put the safety of children and the environment first was to eliminate the county’s use of herbicides altogether, citing research that some of the active ingredients in herbicides used on the Big Island are known to cause cancer.

“What else do you need to know?” asked Councilman Matt Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder.

Lee Loy voted against Bill 101 on its final reading and voted to uphold the mayor’s veto, noting among other concerns the lack of an exemption for the Hilo Municipal Golf Course to use Roundup as part of the maintenance regimen applied to its 18 greens.

She said Friday in the release it was testimony from the public, which was overwhelmingly in support of the ban, that inspired her part in creating the new resolution.

Hawai‘i County Councilmember Sue Lee Loy. Photo courtesy of Big Island Press Club

“All the passionate voices that came out to testify on Bill 101 left no doubt in my mind that this Council must find a pathway forward for our children and for our environment by reducing the county’s use of herbicides,” Lee Loy said. “This resolution proposes a more measured approach that involves our community in finding solutions, and keeps everyone engaged for the development of future balanced policies.”

The Council’s Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy, and Environmental Management will take up the resolution, as well as a progress report from the Administration at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4, in the Hilo Council chamber.

Interested members of the public are encouraged to testify in person in Hilo or via videoconference at the Council’s courtesy sites in Pāhoa, Kapa‘au, Nā‘ālehu, Waimea and Kailua-Kona.

Kierkiewicz, Lee Loy and Villegas had not returned phone calls inquiring about the new resolution as of 12:30 p.m. on Friday. This article may be updated with future comments.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director 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 covering college athletics in 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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