PORT TOWNSEND — Demonstrators who held signs to protest aerial herbicide application say a helicopter passed overhead and sprayed them as well as vehicles traveling on state Highway 20.
A Pope Resources official said they believe it didn’t happen.
The incident allegedly took place late Monday afternoon as a contractor hired by Pope Resources made several passes over timberland just south of Anderson Lake Road, spraying a chemical compound that included glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
“That helicopter, after about 45 minutes of spraying, crossed that ridge, flew straight toward us and dropped, twice,” Lissy Andrews of Port Townsend told City Council members later that night. “That was what we considered a direct threat to our safety and to make us shut up.”
Adrian Miller of Pope Resources said the helicopter did not veer away from the permit authorized by the state Department of Agriculture (WSDA).
“We don’t believe that our contractor allowed drift to occur,” said Miller, Pope Resources’ vice president of corporate affairs and administration.
“We don’t believe our contractor flew over people. We have a flight record from a global positioning system that would confirm that.”
Between 25-30 people attended the council meeting Monday night. About a dozen spoke about public health and safety concerns, particularly about glyphosate, a weed killer that has been put on center stage with several lawsuits alleging the chemical causes cancer.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency won’t approve labels on the products that say it causes cancer, The Associated Press reported earlier this month. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has listed glyphosate as a cancer-causing chemical since 2017.
WSDA approves the chemicals for their intended use through a permitting process, which allows the practice to be used in forest management.
Miller said Pope Resources uses the herbicide after the company harvests timber to help the seedlings they are legally required to plant to survive. The company also uses it to help control invasive and noxious weeds.
Monday’s protests were organized by a combination of the Jefferson County and Kitsap County environmental coalitions.
“We spent the day there, talking to neighbors at Moon Lake and Sunset Lake,” said Ellen O’Shea, the head farmer at Eaglemount Farm.
“The spray went all the way to Gibbs Lake and over the area that drops down into City Lake,” she told council members.
Miller said representatives from the state Department of Natural Resources were onsite during the operation, and Pope Resources will be receiving follow-up communications from them based on their compliance with forest-practice rules.
He said anyone who believes drift occurred should call the WSDA hotline at 1-844-388-2020, and the agency will investigate.
Chelsea Pronovost of Quilcene said the spraying landed on protesters.
“We have video, we have pictures, and we have public testimony,” she said. “People were sprayed, and they will attest to that. Vehicles on the road were sprayed.”
Pronovost said the group documented wind gusts blowing south-southwest at 10-15 mph, “which would blow right toward City Lake.”
City Lake is a reservoir that serves as the main source of drinking water for Port Townsend.
“I really wish you could have been there,” O’Shea told council members. “It was shocking to see that kind of behavior.”
Mayor Deborah Stinson has drafted a letter to several governmental agencies, as well as Pope Resources, to “study the effects of glyphosate exposure and ensure that appropriate safeguards protect the public and the environment.”
Council member Michelle Sandoval pulled the letter from the consent agenda for discussion and, after council listened to about an hour of public comment, said the language needed to be stronger.
The council unanimously approved two separate letters — a “cease and desist” notification to be sent immediately to Pope Resources, the WSDA and other agencies, plus a more detailed concern directed toward state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Hilary Franz, the state Commissioner of Public Lands.
Miller said Pope Resources anticipates it will finish aerial spraying by the end of Wednesday.
“I think it’s perfectly appropriate for the public to express their concerns about any public policy issue to the appropriate decision-makers,” Miller said.
He added that Pope Resources employees had been threatened both online and in person in Jefferson County, and those actions were reported to law enforcement.
Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday.
“We were anticipating these types of accusations,” Miller said.
Public speakers Monday night were outraged.
“This is not just a spray, it is a war against the population of this county,” said Robin Sharan of Port Townsend. “It’s the decimation of our quality of life that we have loved for so long.
“Whatever it costs, it’s cheap compared to our loss of quality of life.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].