Caltrans may resume herbicide spraying


Trinity County Transportation Director Rick Tippett informs residents that the meeting they showed up for Feb. 27 was not open to the public.

Caltrans officials met with representatives of the Trinity County Road Department and other agencies in Weaverville last week to discuss the use of herbicides to improve driver safety and reduce fire danger, among a number of considerations.

The meeting hosted by the Road Department was “invitation only,” much to the dismay of residents who thought the Feb. 27 meeting would be open but instead were left out in the rain.

Although news of the meeting had been shared on social media by members of the group Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment (SAFE), Caltrans District 2 Deputy Director Don Anderson and Trinity County Director of Transportation Rick Tippett told the people outside the meeting was not open.

Anderson said another meeting on the topic will be scheduled later before the Trinity County Board of Supervisors, and that meeting will be public.

“Ridiculous,” said Eric Blomberg, after finding out he would not be allowed in. Blomberg noted he lives by a creek.

SAFE members and others plan to share their concerns at the Trinity County Board of Supervisors public comment time during the board meeting this Friday, March 8. However, as of Tuesday it had not been scheduled on the supervisors’ agenda. Caltrans officials have said they’re aiming to get on the board agenda for March 19 but that wasn’t confirmed.(NO MEETING with CalTrans IS PLANNED SO FAR)

Trinity County has a history of protest regarding use of herbicides.

“Most of the county drinks surface water, and that’s always been the biggest concern,” said Bob Morris, vice president of SAFE.

Morris was one of two SAFE members invited by Caltrans to the meeting.

About 30 people who showed up weren’t let in. The group was mostly made up of people against the herbicide idea — but not entirely.

“This is a tool they’re talking about,” said Diana Sheen of Weaverville. “The first step to fixing the situation.”

Her concern is fire danger. “I don’t want what happened in Paradise to happen in Trinity County,” Sheen said.

Trinity County passed an ordinance about 40 years ago to sharply regulate use of herbicides that is still on the books. However, state action took the teeth out of it.

Leading up to passage of the ordinance, the aerial spraying of herbicides by the U.S. Forest Service in Trinity County raised concerns.

In 1979, county supervisors passed the ordinance requiring a county permit to apply herbicides to an acre or more, or close to a stream. The permit was subject to approval by the agricultural commissioner, county health department and a review board. Phenoxy herbicides were prohibited. The ordinance was later amended to include an appeal process.

The county was sued over the ordinance, as was Mendocino County which had a similar ordinance. Mendocino ultimately prevailed in the state Supreme Court. However, that victory was quickly followed by passage of state legislation in 1984 that said the state, not local governments, has the authority to regulate pesticide use, including herbicides.

That took the strength out of the ordinance, but the efforts still had an impact.

“It’s not legally binding on the Forest Service or Caltrans, but they’ve respected it for 40 years,” said Arnold Whitridge, who was involved in the effort to get the ordinance passed.

Until, perhaps, now.

Persons invited to last week’s meeting got the notice: “Caltrans District 2 is hosting an executive meeting to notify stakeholders about the immediate plan to move forward with herbicide application within Trinity County.”

Caltrans officials have since said that was not the best wording.

“It was a plan to discuss,” said Eric Akana, Caltrans District 2 chief of roadside maintenance, in an interview after the meeting. “Our intentions were to come forth and seek input from agencies or groups in Trinity County regarding the use of herbicide for noxious weeds or veg management.”

“It’s a very effective tool we would like to put back into our toolbox,” he said.

The notice to invitees had a list of reasons for spraying, including better visibility for motorists and clear recovery zones if they go off the road, reduced fire risk and noxious weed removal.

There have been several roadside fire starts in Trinity County caused by malfunctioning vehicles on the highway, including the two “Oregon” fires on the edge of Weaverville (2001 and 2014). The devastating Carr fire last year was caused by a vehicle on Highway 299 in Shasta County.

“In the past Caltrans has agreed not to spray herbicides in Trinity County,” the meeting invitation shared with the Journal states. “With the heightened emphasis on fire protection and the risks associated, Caltrans is notifying all agencies that we are reconsidering this option.”

Fire prevention is part of the reason to resume spraying, Akana said, but primarily the reason is the increased safety for motorists.

“We don’t want to make everything dirt,” he added, so what is proposed is a “small swath” 4 feet out from the edge of the pavement plus possibly spot treatment of noxious weeds beyond that but still within Caltrans’ right-of-way. The herbicide wouldn’t be applied within 20 feet of standing or running water, a quarter mile of a school, 100 feet of a bus stop, or within 24 hours of forecast rain, he said.

Other types of controls such as mowing will still be used, he said. However, he said mowing isn’t as efficient or effective as herbicides, it’s higher cost and exposes workers to safety issues.

Akana said different herbicides are used for different situations, and the type or types that would be used in Trinity hasn’t been determined.

“That was something we wanted to talk with the experts on,” he said.

Although technically Caltrans doesn’t need approval from the Board of Supervisors for the spraying, Akana said, “We want to move forward in good faith. We want their support, and really the community’s as well.”

From the county, Director of Transportation Tippett told the Journal that last week’s meeting hosted by the Road Department was intended to be an interoffice staff meeting of government agencies and specific entities from the start. The location did get moved from the Library to the smaller Road Department quarters because the Library room was booked.

“The community needs to understand there has to be a time for staff to develop ideas and to have candid discussions,” he said.

Tippett said Caltrans does want to hear from the community, saying the state agency “doesn’t operate in an ‘I don’t care’ vacuum.”

The county Road Department doesn’t use herbicides along roads and Tippett said at this time he has no thoughts of doing so. Travel on the county roads is considerably lower than on the state highways, he said, and the local motorists well know the dangers of dragging tow chains.

With much care, he said the department does use herbicides to control weeds that were destroying the pavement at the five county airports.

From SAFE, member Bob Morris said many residents care about this issue and last week’s turnout shows that.

“They think it’s just two to three of us wingnuts out here that are against herbicides,” he said.

Although it may be more expensive to eradicate weeds manually than by spraying, Morris said cancer is even more costly.

One of the chemical herbicides Caltrans uses elsewhere is glyphosate, better known as Roundup. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified it as a “probable human carcinogen.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said glyphosate is safe when the label directions are followed.

Another SAFE member, Ginny Rice, questioned why the Caltrans herbicide plan didn’t come up at a recent meeting of the Trinity County Weed Management Cooperative attended by Caltrans.

She said, “They’ve been using herbicide for years in Shasta County and the Carr fire still started.”

Trinity Journal Editorial

Citizens have right to know about, question spraying plans

Caltrans is looking into resuming spraying herbicides to remove vegetation along its highways in Trinity County, a practice long discouraged by a county ordinance meant to protect the public from hazards of chemical spraying that was diluted due to changes in state law.

We urge Caltrans to be open and transparent in its plans which likely will include pre-emergent and post-emergent spraying.

Caltrans officials met with representatives of the Trinity County Road Department and other agencies in Weaverville last week to discuss the issue. The meeting was “invitation only,” much to the dismay of residents who thought the Feb. 27 meeting would be open to the public but instead were left out in the rain (see story, page one). Two members of the local group Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment were invited from the start to join in the meeting.

It was a routine discussion meeting between agencies, though notice and preliminary location of the meeting (before it was shifted to a smaller conference room) left some wondering if it was to be public or private. “It was a plan to discuss,” said Eric Akana, Caltrans District 2 chief of roadside maintenance, noting the results of spraying help improve driver safety and reduce fire danger.

Some officials expressed their displeasure about the public finding out about this meeting at all. That’s not an attitude that we find particularly appealing or one that instills confidence in the public.

Even though Caltrans doesn’t need the county’s or public’s permission to spray, the issue deserves some public airing. Caltrans reportedly is targeting the March 19 Board of Supervisors meeting to make a presentation and solicit public input. As well they should. Trinity County has for decades discouraged the large-scale use of herbicides, particularly in areas alongside creeks, rivers and other bodies of water, many of which serve as a primary water supply for county residents.

The public has the right to know what specific chemicals Caltrans plans to use and how they plan to use them. The potent herbicide Round-up is reportedly among the possibilities as Caltrans seeks to clear a four-foot strip from pavement’s edge. The danger to humans and wildlife from such a spraying must be discussed.

Whether four feet accomplishes Caltrans’ goal is another issue. Over the years we’ve heard recommendations for three, five, 10, 30 and even 50 feet of vegetative clearing alongside roadways. At best four feet is a starting point, but certainly, depending on terrain, there will be areas that must be cleared further. That brings mowing and hand crews, which have largely been responsible for highway vegetative clearing in Trinity County, back into the picture.

We’re all for using the appropriate tools in one’s toolbox. But only after due deliberation of the pluses and minuses of each tool.

Trinity County has a long history of trying to limit the damaging effects of herbicides. Caltrans should heed those concerns.

Concerned over herbicide plan

After nearly 40 years of not spraying herbicides on the roadsides in Trinity County Caltrans has announced they are going to start spraying. They cite fire danger as their number one reason for doing so. Caltrans sprays the roadsides in Shasta County, including wider dead zones along I-5 and Highway 299, yet we had the Carr fire and many, many starts along I-5.

For nearly 40 years Caltrans has maintained the state roadsides in Trinity County by mowing, brushing and weed whipping with both Caltrans and Conservation Camp crews. That has worked well and there have been few fire starts along our roads.

The Caltrans people promoting the spraying seem ignorant of the hazards of these chemicals that have been proven to cause multitudes of adverse health effects, as documented in peer-reviewed scientific reports. Caltrans seems unaware that road ditches lead to creeks and rivers which many people here depend upon for domestic water supplies.

We are all very fortunate to live in a place as beautiful and unpolluted as Trinity County is. Now we must speak up to protect this place we love. Demand the Board of Supervisors tell Caltrans no spraying in Trinity County because it constitutes a public nuisance.