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Daily News Blog

05
Sep

“Legalized Poisoning of 5,500 People” Message Highlights Controversy Over Aerial Pesticide Spray in Oregon

Community members project messages onto a large basalt rock formation at Seal Rock State Park

(Beyond Pesticides, September 5, 2023) Lincoln County, Oregon  community members are fighting a plan announced by a private landowner to aerially spray 473 acres of clear-cut forest over the Beaver Creek watershed with a pesticide mixture containing carcinogenic glyphosate (commonly found in Roundup). 

The aerial spraying is slated to take place approximately one mile from a water intake at Seal Rock Water District, which supplies water to 5,500 residents. Beyond the risks to human health, residents are concerned about the impacts on wildlife in the creek valley. Local advocates describe the area to include native wetland plants, birds, and fish, including the federally protected Coho Salmon and Marbled Murrelet, beaver, river otter, and roaming elk herds. Beavercreek is also a protected state natural area, where families paddle and walk along the state park marshlands. 

Neighbors of Beaver Creek and the surrounding community are organizing phone banking, public art displays, and a petition urging Governor Tina Kotek to put a moratorium on the spray operation. One of the efforts displays the message “legalized poisoning of 5,500 people” through lights projected onto a basalt rock formation at Seal Rock State Park. The community has gathered over 2,000 petition signatures and over 100 public comments to the Oregon Department of Forestry in opposition to the pesticide spraying. A group of residents from the Seal Rock Water District and the neighbors of Beaver Creek basin have also set up a Go-Fund-Me fundraising webpage for expenses and legal fees.

A press release by Stop the Spray, a coalition of community members in the Beaver Creek watershed, says, “The question is whether the people who live in Beaver Creek and downstream have a right to decide what goes into the water they drink… So many have been asking, ‘How is this even legal?’ The community response seems to be, We don’t know, but we’re about to change it.”

The Seal Rock Water District (SRWD) issued a press release in response to residents’ concerns about the anticipated aerial pesticide spraying. The statement said SRWD plans to develop a management plan to protect the water system including: 

  1. Shutting the Beaver Creek intake pump station off during the application of herbicides,
  2. Allowing the flow in the creek to “move through the stream beyond the POD” (point of diversion), 
  3. Sample the raw water and “if results are non-detect, the district will resume operation”
  4. If hazardous chemicals are detected the district will report results to the Department of Environmental Quality and Pesticide Educational Resource Collaborative (PERC). PERC is a collaboration between the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, the University of California Davis Division of Continuing and Professional Education, and Oregon State University.  

The statement says SRWD has a “5-day supply of water depending on the time of year.” At the time of this writing, the SRWD website displays a drought warning about low streamflow, high temperatures, and “drier-than-normal conditions” since August 2nd, 2023. 

Residents in Lincoln County have been battling aerial pesticide spraying and drift since the 1970s.  More than five years ago, in an effort to establish more protective pesticide regulations than those provided by the state, voters in Lincoln County approved a ballot measure to establish a county-wide ban on aerial spraying of pesticides.  

In 2017, the issue of whether the state of Oregon has the legal authority to stop a locality from adopting stronger restrictions than the state went to the courts. Landowners Rex Capri and Wakefield Farms, LLC, both of whom use aerial spraying on their properties, filed a legal challenge to the ordinance.

The issue of who has the authority to restrict “toxic trespass” came up in an interview with Ann Kneeland, an attorney for the case’s defendant, Lincoln County Community Rights. Attorney Kneeland said in the Oregon Constitution, all power is inherent in the people, who may reform or abolish the government. Proponents of the ban claim, that the power to self-govern is stated in the Oregon Constitution, which supersedes state laws that preempt (limit the authority of) local governments. 

In 2019, A Circuit Court judge in Lincoln County overturned the county ban on aerial spraying of pesticides, citing the preemption of state law over any local ordinance. Beyond Pesticides commented, “This is a very interesting story in American democracy. How did we get to this point in the history of the [U.S.] that we have taken away the local police powers of our local jurisdictions to protect the local public health of our people? This challenges a basic tenet that this country is based on — local governance.”

Now that the county ban on aerial spraying has been lifted, private landowner Sorn Nymark has received a permit to spray in early September and can be active for 90 days after the start date. In a letter to Mr. Nymark, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners said, “Oregon law makes the decision to spray or not to spray yours. Your ownership of our precious natural resources also comes with a clear ethical, if not legal, obligation to protect them. We urge you to seek alternative means to control unwanted vegetation.”

To learn more about this local battle to protect residents, visit the “Stop the Spray” coalition website here.

Beyond Pesticides has highlighted and advocated against the poisoning and contamination caused by aerial pesticide spray drift since its inception in 1981, addressed in Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass. The organization’s monitoring of drift issues is ongoing and can be seen in its “Pesticide Drift” archives. The long history of nontarget exposure, contamination, and poisoning teaches that drift is a function of pesticide use, but not considered adequately by regulators who allow the marketing of poisons that are known to move through the environment uncontrolled.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Oregon Coastal Community Braces for Pesticide Spray Over Watershed

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2 Responses to ““Legalized Poisoning of 5,500 People” Message Highlights Controversy Over Aerial Pesticide Spray in Oregon”

  1. 1
    B. Bailey Says:

    I always thought that whichever protective laws are stronger, whether federal, state, or local – that determines what is allowable and legal. So does this county have something protective of its watersheds and water sources – anything? If that is stronger than state or federal environmental protections, then that law would stand. It sounds like the state jumped the gun or the local government acted too late. How horrifying. Glyphosate persists in the soil indefinitely. It should NEVER be sprayed over that much acreage. That landowner must’ve had the money to buy whatever permit he wanted – considering that he clearcut that much forest! Shame. Greed is the new law i guess. Don’t give up, people. Raise the funds – get an injunction to stop or postpone this spraying. Is your EPA any good? If there are wetland plants, that is grounds for study. Did the landowner have to file a NEPA or SEPA? If you have endangered wildlife in the area that should have been enough to stop him but I guess he clearcut all that wildlife away. Tragic. My heart and thoughts are with this community. I hope they can stop the spraying;. doesn’t look good. What does the landowner expect? The forest is trying to start the rebuild.

  2. 2
    B. Bailey Says:

    I never heard that before -State law should not preempt local law if the local law’s environmental protections are stronger. That is not how it is set up usually. This endangers a watershed, drinking water for over 5,000 people, wildlife, fish, water quality. Glyphosate persists indefinitely in soil. The drift issue is worrisome. If there is a wetland, how is this guy getting away with it? What a terrible situation for local human and non-human beings. Don’t give up. something’s very wrong here. Someone is lying.

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