Bill would regulate pesticide use on Maui County property

Committee hopes measure will protect parkgoers and environment

Maui County Parks and Recreation worker Myles Ka‘eo trims overgrown grass along the shoreline at Wahikuli Wayside Park in 2019. As council members propose legislation to cut down on pesticide use, county departments have also looked at alternatives such as natural sprays and relying more on manual labor. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

A bill that would reduce and manage pesticides and fertilizers used on county property passed out of a Maui County Council committee on Wednesday.

The Climate Action, Resilience, and Environment Committee voted 6-0, with Council Chairwoman Alice Lee excused, to recommend the bill, which would provide an extensive list of pesticides and fertilizers allowed or prohibited for use on county property. The measure now heads to the full council for approval.

“I think it’s important, too, that we start looking at what we heard so much about today as far as the effects of some of these chemicals that are put on our parks and our areas where people go, children or adults,” said Council Member Kelly King, who chairs the committee. “And of course our golf courses are right next to the ocean, which is one of the things that makes it so beautiful, so part of what we’re doing is protecting our oceans and encouraging this chemical management.”

Council Member Shane Sinenci, who proposed the bill, said during the meeting on Wednesday that the measure does not include property managed by the state or private owners, county agricultural parks, or county property used for agricultural purposes.

Understanding that some areas are more challenging than others to maintain, Sinenci said that the bill also allows agencies to apply for a waiver to use pesticides or fertilizers as long as they submit planned uses, purpose of the request, location, costs, environmental conditions and other details.

A Maui County Council committee recommended a bill Wednesday that would regulate pesticide and fertilizer use on county property. If passed, the bill would go into effect one year later, though the Waiehu Golf Course, shown here in 2017, would have three years to implement the new rules.

The bill does not “say no,” but rather provides for more regulation and “transparency for county workers so that people know if synthetic fertilizers are being used and where,” he said.

The director of the Maui County Department of Public Works may adopt new rules if the bill is passed, but the committee discussed expanding regulation to other appropriate departments like Parks and Recreation.

The parks department spoke in support of working toward eliminating hazardous substances and using organic alternatives on golf courses, fields and public parks. Beach parks are not treated with chemicals.

Only about 10 percent of the 3,000 acres managed by the department is currently sprayed, which is mainly the “high intensity playing fields,” said parks superintendent Chris Kinzle.

Jay Feldman, executive director of the nonprofit Beyond Pesticides, said “we need to stop the use of hazardous chemicals, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and replace them with a different approach.”

Feldman supported the bill’s “organic approach to land management” in order to protect the soil, air and ocean, as well as the health of families and children from illnesses and diseases commonly associated with chemical exposure, like rashes, various cancers, birth defects, asthma, brain and nervous system disorders, for example.

“We do not need toxic pesticides to achieve our community goals for aesthetic or safety in the parks, playing fields or sports fields and along the roadside,” Feldman said. “We are not talking about product substitution. … We are talking about a systems change.”

Department of Public Works Director Rowena Dagdag-Andaya requested some amendments to the bill, including wording to better define what county property is, expanding administrative responsibility or providing more documentation on prohibited and approved substances listed in the bill.

Dagdag-Andaya said that the department is “committed to reducing our herbicide use for our roadside vegetation management program,” however, there are still instances where staff would need to use herbicides to control overgrown vegetation or areas that could become “hazardous.”

The handful of testifiers on Wednesday were all in support of the bill, including agencies like the Sierra Club-Maui Group, West Maui Green Cycle LLC, the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council and the Napili-based Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research.

The organizations advocated for a reduction or full elimination of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers due to their harmful effects on the environment.

“We believe that this bill is critical as the county is the owner of numerous coastal properties. For example, I just counted 18 county-owned beach parks in South Maui and 10 in West Maui,” said Anne Rillero, communication and outreach director for the marine resource council. “It has a responsibility for caring for its lands in a manner that protects the health of our nearshore coral reefs, marine wildlife, water quality, and also for the people who enjoy the ocean — we use it for fishing, recreation, cultural connections.”

Junya Nakoa, a coach for multiple youth paddling and baseball teams in Napili, said “we need to protect these kids.”

Players have to do “pushups and situps on the grass,” said Nakoa, who is worried about them being exposed to unknown pesticides and fertilizers because there is no detailed signage posted when park fields are sprayed.

Upcountry resident and mom Jordan Hocker said, “I would really just love for my child to be able to pick clover or blackberries and not have to worry about her neurological function being impaired.”

“I would love for other families to be able to do that as well,” she added.

The measure was recommended with a few revisions, with Council Chairwoman Alice Lee expressing concern that there hasn’t been enough public input and that more education is needed on the bill before it’s implemented.

If approved, the bill would take effect one year later, though War Memorial Complex and Ichiro “Iron” Maehara Baseball Stadium would have two years and the Waiehu Golf Course would have three years before the new rules are applied.

Sinenci said that the bill “is the result of listening to the public, all the different departments, Corporation Counsel, our Council Services staff and our past committee members.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.


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