Lawmakers consider reforms to herbicide spraying rules
PORTLAND — The Legislature is working on reforming Oregon's regulations governing aerial spraying of herbicides on industrial timberlands.
The Oregonian reports that Eugene Democrat Sen. Chris Edwards has convened a workgroup on the issue. It holds its first session Tuesday in Salem.
Edwards is the chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He says current regulations are not protecting people who live near industrial forestlands, but it remains to be seen what reforms are politically feasible.
Oregon regulations currently require spray buffer zones along fish-bearing streams, but not around schools or homes. There is no requirement to warn people that spraying will occur on a specified day. And people who feel spray has fallen over their land cannot sue for damages under the state's Right to Farm Act.
Last spring, the Oregon Department of Agriculture determined that a helicopter company hired to spray herbicides on industrial timberlands in Curry County "more than likely" allowed spray to fall over people's homes, but did not go so far as to say the spray made people sick.
The state later fined Pacific Air Research Inc. and pesticide applicator Steven Owen $10,000 each and suspended their commercial pesticide licenses for a year for providing false and misleading information during the investigation.
A hearing is pending on Owen's administrative appeal, and a call to Pacific Air Research for comment wasn't immediately returned.
State and federal investigations began in 2011 after tests showed residents around Triangle Lake in the Coast Range outside Eugene had herbicides in their urine. The people live near industrial timberlands where herbicides were sprayed.
Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, wants to make Oregon's spraying regulations more like those in Washington and California, making it easier for people to know what is going on and requiring operators to notify neighbors of plans to spray and burn logging debris. He wants to require the state Board of Forestry to restore buffer zones around schools and homes, which were removed in 1996.
A package of bills in the House from Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, would require more training for pilots and investigators of spraying complaints, and it would provide more money for investigations. Clem, who received more than $23,000 in campaign contributions from the timber industry since 2008, questioned the notifications and buffers Dembrow was proposing.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Kate Brown said her office would have someone at the workgroup.