By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Carbondale’s elected leaders came close to reversing themselves Tuesday night, regarding an herbicide-spraying program at the North Face Bike Park that upset several area residents when it was revealed to the public earlier in April.
But a 3-3 tie vote (Mayor Stacy Bernot was absent) put an end to an appeal from residents to hold fast to the town’s long-standing policy against the use of toxic chemicals on town property.
Trustees Allyn Harvey, Pam Zentmyer and Frosty Merriott voted against a motion to stop the herbicide program, while trustees A.J. Hobbs, Katrina Byars and John Hoffmann voted in favor of holding off on the herbicides while the town investigated its options.
The issue arose during the public-comments section of the trustees’ April 28 meeting, which is when anyone who wants to talk with the trustees, but is not there for a scheduled agenda item, can take a few minutes of the board’s time.
As pointed out by trustee Zentmyer, the decision on April 14 to approve the herbicide-spraying program was made after a similar, unscheduled appeal from members of several volunteer boards that advise the trustees.
After the near flip-flop on using pesticides was put to rest, Zentmyer scolded her fellow trustees that “we should never make decisions during Persons-Present-Not-On-The-Agenda. It gets us into trouble every time.”
She said board decisions, especially concerning an issue carrying so much potential for controversy as the use of pesticides on public land, should be made only following advance public notice and formal discussion by the board.
The revolt against the spraying program was begun by local environmental activist Gwen Garcelon, director of the Roaring Fork Food Policy Council, who told the trustees that she and others objected to the idea of using herbicides on town parks, even if it is a move motivated by desperation, as was the spraying program in this case.
“We’ve been saying no about this for a long time,” Garcelon declared, referring to the fact that Carbondale citizens have rejected the spraying of chemicals on local parks since the early 1990s.
But the trustees were told on April 14 that the town’s rather casual approach to weed control, coupled with recent construction disturbances at North Face Bike Park, has resulted in an infestation of various weeds that were threatening to interfere with use of the facility.
Garcelon, along Jerome Osentowski of the Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute in Basalt, questioned the need for the spraying program at North Face Bike Park, contending that there are not enough weeds in evidence to warrant treatment by harsh chemicals.
“These are not benign,” Osentowski told the trustees. “Every one of these herbicides are highly toxic, and last for a long time.”
Children and other users at North Face Bike Park would end up breathing in the chemicals, or getting coated with chemical residue, for an unknown amount of time, he maintained.
He said he recognized that weeds are opportunistic plants that move in to occupy disturbed ground, such as the park, where recent construction of various land forms have left the terrain scarred and torn up.
But, he insisted, “Spraying is not the answer.”
Trustee Hobbs, who voted in support of delaying the spraying program, offered to pull the weeds himself (with as many helpers as he could drum up), calling the April 14 decision to spray “the most commented-upon issue that I’ve dealt with” in his service to the town.
But others on the board, as well as Town Manager Jay Harrington, reminded those at the meeting of earlier testimony at the April 14 meeting to the effect that volunteer weed-pullers cannot be relied upon to get the job done.
Trustee Byars thanked Garcelon, Osentowski and others who came to the meeting to oppose the spraying program.
But she pointed out that the town had examined its options and concluded that limited, spot-spraying was needed or “the state will come in and do it,” referring to a state regulation requiring municipalities to keep noxious weeds under control.
And Harrington suggested that no decision should be made that night, until the trustees had a chance to get input from the volunteers who had worked on the park and had requested the spraying program in the first place.
“We’re not herbicide free in this town,” Harrington said, explaining that private landowners throughout the town typically use herbicides without compunction, including the management of the River Valley Ranch homeowners association, who have a maintenance contract for the town-owned Triangle Park property and probably have already sprayed there.
Zentmyer suggested the trustees call for a meeting of the town’s advisory commissions connected to this issue, and talk about coming up with a comprehensive weed-management program in order to avoid this kind of stand-off in the future.
Trustee Merriott, agreeing with Zentmyer, said of the dispute, “I think this points to a real need for our community to have a plan in place.”
In other action the trustees:
• Granted a special-event liquor license to the Roaring Fork Conservancy nonprofit organization, for an event on May 21 at the Calaway Room of the Third Street Center;
• Approved a liquor license transfer for the restaurant/bar at the River Valley Ranch golf club building, from the now-closed Finnbar’s at the Green to a new business, named the Pan and Fork Restaurant, which is scheduled to open to the public on Friday.
• Approved a subdivision agreement for True Nature Healing Arts, giving authorization for the business to erect a second building on land it owns between Third and Second streets, to the north of Main Street.
• Approved the long-debated, much-revised Parks and Recreation Master Plan, with “amendments” suggested by the trustees.
Published in The Sopris Sun on April 30, 2015.