PORT TOWNSEND — More than a dozen Jefferson County residents expressed concerns during a Port Townsend City Council meeting about herbicide sprays on Pope Resources property, claiming it’s ruining the ecosystem and potentially getting into the local water supply.
Public comment Monday night targeted Pope Resources’ planned aerial spraying at multiple sites on the Hood Canal Tree Farm, private property in the county overseen by Olympic Resource Management.
“We are surrounded by Pope land, and our private community water source is surrounded by Pope lands, and it all flows to the watersheds,” said Alisha Douglas of Port Ludlow.
Pope Resources plans to apply herbicide for invasive weed control both with aerial sprays and licensed contractors who will carry the chemicals in backpacks during August and September, said Adrian Miller, Pope Resources’ vice president of corporate affairs and administration.
But the timber management company’s announcement last month angered residents, many of whom spoke earlier in the day in front of the Board of County Commissioners before they shared those thoughts with City Council members.
“Weeds are not unsafe; chemicals are,” Douglas said.
The council unanimously voted to have Mayor Deborah Stinson write a letter to several agencies, including the state Department of Health, the state Attorney General’s office and Pope Resources, to discuss the harmful effects of the chemicals.
The letter is scheduled to come back to the council Aug. 19, possibly on the consent agenda, before it is sent to the various agencies.
The council also plans to investigate the cost of a test for the presence of glyphosate in drinking water. A primary ingredient in the herbicide application, it is listed as a contaminant of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and has a maximum contaminant level goal of 700 parts per billion, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’re part of the whole system, that’s why we joined the [Jefferson] Conservation District,” Stinson said. “But where I struggle a little bit is where is our jurisdiction, and where is it not?
“We don’t spray on properties we own, and we can’t control spraying on properties we don’t own.”
Miller said Tuesday from a job site in Longview that Pope Resources is not applying herbicide inside the watershed of City Lake.
All water for Port Townsend flows through City Lake.
“There are two units nearby as the crow flies, within a half a mile from the top of the ridge, we have elected to use backpack treatments for the methodology of those,” Miller said.
Pope Resources has voluntarily provided written notifications to all landowners within 1,000 feet of aerial applications, according to www.popeneighbor2neighbor.com, which lists proposed maps for herbicide application sites and separately cites the chemical compounds at each location.
The aerial sprays depend on weather and wind conditions, and they are applied by licensed pilots with Pope Resources employees also on site, Miller said.
Some of the public comments Monday concerned chemicals drifting away from its intended application area and damaging foliage and wildlife.
“I’m deeply concerned,” said Lea Falkenhagen of Port Townsend. “My children go to Sunfield [school] and forage some of the land that abuts the land Pope sprays.”
Falkenhagen asked about proper oversight and wanted to know if there were water quality and soil samples that showed any proof that drift hasn’t happened.
“Our system is a living, breathing system, so there’s really no control over where it goes or stays,” she said. “It’s our job to protect those animals.”
Miller said the state Department of Agriculture oversees the operation. Those who have questions can call the department hotline at 360-902-1800.
“Drift is illegal, whether it’s applied to a city water supply, a neighbor, a buffer, anywhere we don’t plan on applying,” Miller said. “We use a number of techniques to manage that.
“We’ve invited the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources to attend applications while they’re occurring, areas where people perceive there to be more risk,” he said. “Those tend to be the kinds of operations they will attend.”
Greg Lanning, the city’s public works director, said the water treatment plant filters out physical obstructions to 0.04 microns, but it can’t detect chemical contaminants.
“These are very emotional issues,” he said. “This is a plea for the city to weight in, at a minimum, policy-wise on what’s being done on private property and permitted by the state.”
Many of the dozens of residents in council chambers gasped when they heard the water system was last tested for glyphosate nine years ago.
“It is something you have to send to a laboratory to do, and it does get very expensive, especially if you start testing for every possible contaminant,” said Ian Jablonski, the city’s operations manager for water resources.
Lanning added there were only four “constituents” on the Safe Water Drinking Act when it was passed by Congress in 1974.
“What used to be four became hundreds,” he said.
When the city’s water supply was last tested, “you found a very clean source, according to those standards,” Lanning said.
Residents also claimed Pope Resources no longer uses aerial applications in neighboring Kitsap County because local jurisdictions pushed back.
Miller said that’s not the case.
“We have a total of three units in Kitsap County that we have evaluated, and we feel we need herbicide treatment to ensure our seedlings will survive,” he said. “Those were site-specific conditions that led us to believe which products and which applications were best to use.
“There’s significant more acres and significant more areas that need herbicide applications [in Jefferson County], and we will use a combination of aerial and backpack application.”
Ellen O’Shea, the head farmer at Eaglemount Farms, blamed the deaths of thousands of bees on Pope Resources spraying last summer. She said Monday she’s been involved with an environmental coalition to address forest practices.
Miller confirmed a workgroup was established by the state Legislature last year to evaluate aerial application in forestry.
“We’ve supported that process, and we think it’s an appropriate venue,” he said. “The regulation of these activities really is a statewide process.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].