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Phoenix developing pest management plan

Phoenix City Council wants an integrated pest management plan after some citizens raised concerns about spraying of pesticides in parks.

“I don’t think it’s a hot-button issue for the public generally, but for some people it’s really a hot button,” said Mayor Chris Luz during a meeting in May where the issue was discussed. During his own meetings with the public, he hasn’t heard concerns about spraying, he said.

Council directed City Manager Aaron Prunty to come up with a plan over the next year for consideration. It would include current city practices.

“If we document this, we make a plan, we show what has been done, I think the people with the most concerns will be at ease a little bit,” said Councilor Terry Baker.

Concerns for children in parks where herbicides may be spayed were raised by Lyla Heigl during a February City Council session. Rhianna Simes also said she was worried about spraying. Support was voiced for creation of an integrated pest management plan by two speakers at a March council meeting.

Last year the city’s Public Works Department sprayed a total of 5 gallons of pesticides, less than two of that in parks, Luz told the council in May. None of the spraying was done on lawns in parks, he said.

“Anyone can go to Public Works and see the spray records,” said Luz.

Public Works officials follow best practices for handling pesticide spraying as detailed in a Bear Creek Greenway Riparian Corridor Long-Term Vegetation Management Plan developed through the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, Prunty said. The plan has not been adopted formally for use in city parks.

Spraying of pesticides decreased in 2018 compared to 2017, Prunty said in an interview Wednesday. He expects it will be down more for 2019 also.

An employee certified to spray pesticides from a machine has left city employment, Prunty said.

“We don’t spray in that way very much or very often, so it’s not a priority to get someone certified in the way right now,” said Prunty. What pesticides are used are sprayed from backpack apparatus by employees following regulations.

Luz said he would like to see the outcome of an plan developed by the city of Talent that was adopted in December 2018 before the council tackles the issue.

“Long term, I don’t really want to get into a discussion of the science on herbicides and synthetics versus organics,” said Luz. “The science varies on what is safe versus unsafe.”

Public Works employees do a great deal of pulling weeds by hand, said Luz. They also install mesh as a preventive measure in areas where weeds may emerge. Luz said that if the community wants to help, people could organize weed-pulling efforts.

Luz encouraged councilors to meet with Public Works staff to get their thoughts on implementation of an integrated pest management plan, including how much it might cost in staff time and how employees feel about such a measure.

Councilor Stuart Warren said he studied the issue with former Public Works director Ray DiPasquale. He felt the city was doing a good job of handling weed control and supported having a plan in place to show best practices and to provide citizens with information.

The city has also created a Parks and Recreation Committee to serve in place of the Parks and Greenway Commission. Ambiguities in city regulations that set up the commission were discovered when the council looked at the body. Roles and responsibilities that may have changed, use of city staff and staff time, events and event planning and impact on departmental spending were among issues that prompted change consideration, according to a memo from Prunty.

Council passes an ordinance April 15 that established the committee. Sarah Collins, Nancy Peterson and Sandy Wine, all former commission members, applied for and were appointed to the committee at the council’s May 6 meeting. In her application, Collins said spraying in parks was a concern.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

The Phoenix Plaza opened last summer on Highway 99. Photo fromo phoenixciviccenter.org.