Council looks to end herbicides in city watershed

The Big Creek watershed is shown from an aerial view. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln County Community Rights)

NEWPORT — Hancock Forest Management will continue backpack-spraying herbicides on forest land near the Big Creek Watershed, despite opposition from the City of Newport.

Newport City Council members met to discuss a proposal for a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Newport and Hancock Forest Management over the company’s use of herbicides near the Big Creek Watershed on Monday, Dec. 3.

The council came to a verbal agreement that spraying near the watershed is an issue, and resolved to explore cost estimates of stream water testing, look into grant funds for purchasing the watershed property to manage the land locally and continue to negotiate and discuss alternatives with Hancock, rather than agreeing to an MOU.

Because of the state’s preemption law, Hancock can still legally backpack spray regardless of whether or not the city of Newport agrees with it.

“We don’t have any control over whether Hancock sprays or not,” said Councilor Dietmar Goebel, “If they do decide to spray, we need to test. But as a city we don’t need to enter into an MOU to allow Hancock to spray.”

The MOU, which the city council discussed in May, sought a collaborative approach to forest practices in regards to sharing cost for water quality testing and discussing alternatives to herbicides, which may or may not coincide with their spraying.

The use of herbicidal chemicals near the city’s watershed has been a topic of public concern because of potential  health effects from exposure, such as cancer, chemical sensitivities, and skin rashes.

“We need to look at an alternative,” Terry Obteshka, a Newport resident, told council members, “Killing some weeds should not trump public health.”

Councilor David Allen said he hopes to work with Hancock so the city has the ability to test the water immediately before and after Hancock sprays for more scientific accuracy, instead of relying on annual testing.

“Dilution is the solution to pollution, frankly,” Public Works Director Tim Gross said. “By the time it gets to the intake it’s probably at a much lower concentration than you might see in some of the creeks, and it’s not timely either.”

Norm Ferber, a Newport resident who lives on Big Creek Road below Hancock’s clear-cut forest land, urged council members to test the creek heads before and after herbicide spraying.

“We’re very susceptible to any heavy rainfall, and any heavy rain fall that’s carrying any kind of chemical deposit is obviously going into the water system,” Ferber said.

Jerry Anderson of Hancock Forest Management was not in attendance and did not send a representative to speak at the meeting.

“I’m dismayed that Hancock Timber Management made the decision to send a letter to the citizens of Newport but not a representative to be available for questions tonight,” Jan Kenyon, a newport resident and Lincoln County Community Rights member, said during public comment.

The idea of purchasing the watershed property from Hancock with grant money to be able to manage the land locally was addressed.

“That kind of circumvents the preemption issue because if you own the property as a local jurisdiction then you can manage it the way you want,” Allen added. “I think purchasing property would be great, if there would be money available, but for me it’s about re-entering negotiations with Hancock and finding out where they are on this.”

In a letter to Spencer Nebel, Newport City Manager, Jerry Anderson of Hancock Forest Management indicated that the company will resume customary forest practices and will be transparent with the city about any actions that will occur within the Big Creek Watershed.

Anderson also indicated that the company is still open to future collaboration with the city on an MOU for testing chemical impacts on the water from the use of herbicides in forests within the Big Creek watershed.

“This is a hot topic,” Goebel said, “Like everybody else in town, I drink this water, my wife drinks this water, my children drink this water … We need to give the citizens of Newport the best, cleanest water that we can.”

The council shelved the issue until the city council meeting in January.

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