At their regular meeting on Aug. 25, the Durham Board of Selectmen created a task force to study the town’s herbicide use.
Called the Roadside Maintenance Task Force, the group was formed after residents complained to the BOS about the spraying of chemical weed-killer on roads and curbs.
The town has the right to spray onto private property within 10 feet of the roads. In response to concerns expressed at the Aug. 11 BOS meeting, Public Works director Kurt Bober said that his department has been spraying onto the roads and curbs and not the 10 foot right of way.
The chemical used was a commercially available herbicide, although the town also has access to herbicides not publicly available. At that meeting, the town placed a moratorium on herbicide use to study the issue.
The task force’s charge reads, “The task force shall research safe, efficient, and cost-effective methods of maintaining roadways, roadsides, and town property that minimizes and/or eliminates the use of hazardous chemicals.”
That wording drew comment.
“It almost seems like the charge is the decision,” selectman Steve Levy said. “I’m not opposed to the goal, but I’m just not sure it’s a good charge in that it’s already drawing a conclusion.”
First Selectman Laura Francis said that the task force would research and recommend, while the BOS would decide.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Roger Kleeman of Durham said that the word hazardous in the charge was detrimental because even safe chemicals could be considered hazardous if used improperly. “I think you’re putting something in there that’s going to cause more trouble than it’s worth,” Kleeman said.
At the beginning of the meeting, Rick Parmelee said of the moratorium, “I think it was rather drastic action to put a stop to it.” Parmelee asked why should power company and town employees be subjected to poison ivy on the job.
“So far Public Works has not reported that there are any real problematic areas,” Francis responded. “If there are, we can selectively re-address that.”
Tina Hurlbert, Claudia White, Joanne Nytch, Mark Shadle, and Mike Bisceglia were appointed to the task force, which led selectman John Szewcyzk to question if there would be a diversity of opinion in the group.
The timing of the task force’s reporting, no later than Nov. 10 according to its charge, will allow Durham to make changes in the town budget if different methods have financial implications.