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Dangers of Spray

Honoring the legacy of Jan Wroncy with chemical free roadsides

Citizens of Lane County, take pride in your roadsides! Unique in the nation, the county hasn’t poisoned them since 2003, with unexpected benefits. Green, living roadsides and the well-crafted policies that achieve them are among the many gifts left by Jan Wroncy of Blachly, whose body returned to the soil April 16. 

Currently four out of five Lane County commissioners are directing staff to change county law and substitute any policy that will start spraying again. Meanwhile, on April 13, Douglas County commissioners bought $100,000 worth of chemicals on killer discount from the Oregon Department of Transportation, saying they couldn’t afford manual labor like Lane County, and that their pavements will crack as soon as any vegetation touches it. 

The head of Douglas County poisoning is also the county safety officer, who was videotaped spraying over and into the Umpqua River. The commissioners shown the videotape and damage said they didn’t see a problem. This same safety officer was witnessed spraying Forest Service land May 16, 2016, while a school tour was on the property. He was using a mix of Roundup, Opensight, Payload and Alligare. 

 At the other end of the spectrum, Jan Wroncy was the mother bear, protecting children and all defenseless creatures in the biosphere from chemical trespass and involuntary exposure. Scientist, farmer, networker and legal tactician, she was fearless, brave, polite. Always composed, Jan presented her facts and evidence during many meetings, including with those responsible for poisoning her.

I met Jan about 1984 when she was farming near Coburg. I was impressed immediately with her brilliance and ethics, and about 20 years ago she talked me into applying for membership joining her on Lane County’s Vegetation Management Advisory Committee. She represented citizens living with multiple-chemical sensitivity, what we today call toxicant induced loss of tolerance (TILT).

Starting with roadsides, I discovered Jan was fighting for civil, constitutional and property rights in forestry and agriculture and all in public land management to boot. She was concerned with every toxicant upstream and upwind of everybody. 

I’m still astounded by the sheer number and complexity of issues Jan could master and move forward, all from her home in the Coast Range. She was always ready to help, for too many years providing the only information available to those injured by chemical drift and trespass. EW’s blessed Lane County Area Spray Schedule is one of the many strands Jan is weaving. 

 When county staff applying chemicals made attending meetings and traveling on roads dangerous to her, Jan sued for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fighting for the rights of all citizens and against Lane county attorneys, Jan’s lawsuit reached the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

At the same time she found county and state herbicides repeatedly blocking all her roads to food, medicine and legal help. Another citizen suing the county for injury from roadside spray also found his roads blocked by spray in a manner that appeared both retaliatory and coordinated with county legal staff. 

A new Lane County Commission was elected in May 2003, and the new majority decided to minimize county liabilities. They unanimously passed Lane Code 15.500, the law to Use of Herbicides as a Last Resort Policy, in August. Public Works staff stopped spraying roads immediately, which continues until today. 

Sadly, some staff have been trying to get chemical treatments re-started ever since. Now four out of five commissioners support chemical use, and current Vegetation Management Task Force recommendations represent the most recent effort to get started. 

Alone in the nation, Lane County hasn’t used any herbicides along our roads since 2003, with many surprising benefits. Besides the outright reductions in poisoning program costs and legal fees:

• The grassy borders along our roads absorb and clean the toxic runoff leaching from the asphalt surface and leaking from vehicles and their tires, preventing this pollution from entering our waterways.

•  The grass edges support the roadbed and eliminate most erosion into ditches and culverts, and reduce shoulder maintenance activities in most locations. 

• Invasive weed seeds are rejected by the established ground cover, leaving only a few corridors and isolated spots with problems. 

 Tour neighboring counties’ roads or ODOT-maintained state and federal roads to see today what 1,500 miles of Lane roadsides used to be — dangerous, expensive, chemical-dependent and very, very ugly. But roadside poisoning is big business. 

In 2009 the Oregon Legislature approved most of Lane County for an ODOT no-spray pilot project. The appropriation passed through all final committees, but when ODOT got its copy, the line item was missing and the project had to be cancelled. 

ODOT has since made their requirements for an official no-spray right-of-way too onerous for any sane agreement. ODOT has its own agenda of fostering chemical dependence, as do the Oregon departments of agriculture and forestry. 

Along Lane roads today, the greatest threat to Lane citizens is from ODOT’s massive roadside poisoning along roads inside our communities and beside our rivers. Unquantifiable poison exposures and liabilities originate from illegal poisoning of county rights-of-way by adjacent landowners. 

Staff and commissioners are encouraging the illegal treatments by looking the other way. For monetary gain, or even aesthetics, some adjacent landowners poison county land with massive amounts of unknown chemicals with unknown re-entry times. 

In 2011, Jan achieved a longtime goal when county public service announcements explained the county didn’t spray its roadsides, and citizens should do likewise. A new commission was elected, ending those reminders.

Treasure Jan’s roadsides and elect commissioners who will protect them. Demand an Integrated Vegetation Management Plan that builds on county success. Support and pass the petition by Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Alliance to outlaw poison drift in the county. Fiercely protect children and biodiversity, and do it politely.