An investigator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture on Monday collected soil samples from a Lazy Creek neighborhood and interviewed property owners who say herbicide spraying by city crews cost them mature landscaping and peace of mind.

An investigator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture on Monday collected soil samples from a Lazy Creek neighborhood and interviewed property owners who say herbicide spraying by city crews cost them mature landscaping and peace of mind.

Residents of the Greenbrook Drive area say that overspray from a toxic herbicide administered earlier this month along Lazy Creek, a tributary of Bear Creek, killed their landscaping and left them leery of using their backyards for recreation or gardening.

Neighbors Beth Powell and Isaiah Hurney say the herbicide, identified by city officials as Garlon 4, was sprayed around July 9-10 and almost immediately caused foliage to yellow and shrivel.

Powell said she noticed city parks crews spraying along the creek as she walked her Chihuahua-dachshund mix Frankie on the adjacent footpath, but "didn't give it a second thought at first."

"I saw the parks guy spraying, but he wasn't wearing a respirator or anything, so I didn't think anything of it. And of course I didn't even think they had sprayed on or near the neighbors' properties because they never had before," said Powell.

"As soon as everything started to turn yellow, I was just sick. When I called the city and they told me what they sprayed, of course I looked it up and was very concerned."

A 50-foot-long, 7-foot-tall wisteria hedge, planted nearly two decades before Powell bought her home in 2000, began to dry and shrivel up, she said.

Next door, Hurney noticed two cherry trees, planted when his children were born, began to wilt while a set of garden beds and roses along his back property line began to die.

Hurney said he ran sprinklers for a full day to try and "white out" some of the chemical application on his back lawn, but he remained concerned about the safety of his property for his children and pets.

"I didn't lose anywhere near what Beth (Powell) did. I mean, a tree is a tree. She lost wisteria that was there for almost 40 years. You can never replace that," Hurney said.

"But the big thing is we also still have dogs that were in the yard before we realized what was going on. We haven't been able to put them in the backyard, and if the overspray alone has killed most of what I had in my backyard, I sure don't want to let my kids back there. So it's summertime, and we have no backyard. And how do we know when it's really safe again?"

Tim Stevens, parks maintenance supervisor for the city of Medford, said the city sympathized with neighbors and hoped to "get to the bottom of" the incident.

Stevens said the city had not previously had an instance of overspray — for which state law has a zero-tolerance policy — but that city officials were cooperating with the investigation and hoped to find a resolution for the property owners if the city should be found at fault.

Stevens said blackberry bushes had been sprayed to improve safety by eliminating areas for transients to camp along the creek.

Stevens said the city, which typically opts for hand-removal of unwanted vegetation along waterways, would not have directed crews to deliberately spray near private properties.

"The investigator is going to determine if this was a case of the spray being used wrong or if the hard cold spell we had this winter might of killed the landscaping," Stevens said.

"Anything is possible and I'm not saying we didn't kill this lady's wisteria, but we have to wait for the results of the investigation before we can take the next step," added Stevens, who said the city likely would evaluate its policy on spraying and "change how we do things."

"At the end of the day, it is a 37-year-old wisteria and if we killed something like that then I feel terrible about it. If it is us, I'll go to bat for her in the claims process."

Paul Khokar, investigator for the Department of Agriculture, said that complaints had been made too late for the state agency to determine whether spray had reached the creek, but that soil samples along the creek bank would provide information about potential overspray or misuse.

Khokar said specific buffers might soon be required between spray areas and waterways because of concerns over the safety of triclopyr, the main ingredient in Garlon 4.

"There are some concerns related to this particular product and I will let the city of Medford know that there probably are some better products out there to use," Khokar said.

"As far as the investigation, we will know more after the soil samples are taken and analyzed."

Powell was pleased that an investigation would take place but said she was saddened that possible carelessness had impacted her property values and privacy.

"The wisteria was the keystone of our yard. We designed our entire backyard around it," she said.

"Everyone who walked the path would comment how beautiful it was and now it crumbles in your hand."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at