In the face of passionate public protest, Caltrans will hold off on its plan to spray herbicides in Trinity County this year.
Caltrans District 2 executive staff met with Trinity County representatives earlier this month and decided to put any applications of herbicide on hold for the year “unless we agreed together with the county on some sort of course of action,” said Caltrans District 2 roadside maintenance Chief Eric Akana.
At this point Akana noted it’s beyond the timeframe to apply herbicide because the weeds have grown too high. Alternative methods of mechanical and manual removal continue, he said.
Regarding the future, Akana said, “We want to work with the county the best we can.”
In March, Caltrans announced its plan to resume spraying herbicides along state highways in Trinity County after many years without spraying here. Caltrans representatives said the agency has fallen behind on vegetation management and cited a need for better visibility for motorists and clear recovery zones if they go off the road, reduced fire risk and noxious weed removal.
The early proposal was to spray four feet on either side of Highway 299 at certain locations from Buckhorn Summit to Oregon Mountain, plus spot spraying of invasive weeds in other areas of the Caltrans right-of-way.
That drew a strong response from Trinity County residents opposing the use of herbicides here.
Led by the group Safe Alternatives for Our Forest Environment, residents packed the Trinity County Board of Supervisors chambers twice to protest the plan to county and Caltrans officials. With the exception of a couple of speakers who supported herbicide use to reduce chances of roadside fire starts, residents who spoke up opposed any type of herbicide use by Caltrans in the county and urged the agency to find another way.
In particular they targeted Roundup which has been the subject of multi-million-dollar jury awards in several lawsuits in California. Claimants said use of the weed killer caused their cancer.
Trinity County District 2 Sup. Judy Morris said the public response made a difference.
“Certainly, the community weigh-in on this issue I think was heard loud and clear by Caltrans,” Morris said.
After the public meetings, Morris, along with District 4 Sup. Jeremy Brown, had more talks with Caltrans officials, SAFE and representatives of state lawmakers Mike McGuire and Jim Wood.
Ultimately, Morris said Caltrans District 2 Director Dave Moore seemed open to finding a solution and holding off on the herbicides.
Although the county can’t tell Caltrans what to do, Morris noted, “They have been cooperating with our herbicide resolution over the years.”
The resolution passed by the board in 2004 reaffirmed the county’s position that herbicide spraying in Trinity County is a public nuisance and encouraged people and organizations to use alternatives.
Along with other agencies, Morris said, “Caltrans has been a long-term partner in honoring that.”
“We have a little bit of a pause,” Morris said, “and in the meantime they will look at alternative methods and we will sit down and look at those alternative methods together and see what can be pursued down the road.”
SAFE President Larry Glass is not relaxing over this.
“My understanding is that all that’s taken place right now is they’ve agreed not to immediately use herbicides in the county,” he said. “But the threat of them using it is still on the table.”
More meetings with Caltrans are needed, he said. “SAFE’s position is if they’re concerned about the four-foot strip along the roadside they just need to pave those strips,” he said. “Then they don’t have to come back every year and mow or weed whack it.”
“We still need to talk to them some more,” Glass said. “The immediate threat has stopped but we still need to stay vigilant.”