Organic care for Durango’s properties?

City officials skeptical about calls to limit synthetic pesticide use

Cody Reinheimer, father of a 7-year-old daughter, Kiva, raised his fist high at City Council Chambers on Tuesday night after listing the many health and environmental dangers associated with the use of synthetic pesticides and other lawn chemicals, not the least of which is the spread of cancer in the population.

“Go organic!” he said enthusiastically in support of a proposed ordinance that would limit synthetic pesticide in city parks and property.

But his passion was balanced by the ire and head-scratcing of city staff members, professional mosquito controllers, soccer moms and Hillcrest Golf Course board members who are worried about the costs, legal liabilities and environmental implications of limiting the use of chemical lawn treatments.

City officials, for example, worried the city would no longer be able to spray alleyways for mosquitoes.

Mayor Doug Lyon doubted the science of the organic proponents.

“I don’t think there’s a validity to the great many assertions (in the ordinance),” Lyon said.

“The proposal addresses a problem that barely exists,” said Scott Sallee, a professional lawn-care provider. “It would be the most restrictive policy of its kind in Colorado and possibly the nation.”

He called it an “irresponsible proposal” that does not understand lawn care.

Unless the grass-roots group, Organically Managed Parks Team Durango, withdraws its proposed ordinance, the debate about pesticides in city parks and other city-owned property is likely to continue until the Nov. 6 general election, when it would be put to the voters.

Because of the big turnout expected for the presidential election, the extra ballot item on organic care for city parks could cost the city $19,000, said city officials.

City officials said their hands are tied, however, because the group collected the 500 signatures necessary for a special election under the City Charter. The City Council, however, could make a special election unnecessary by adopting the proposed ordinance.

But city staff members, at least, seem opposed to the proposal, especially an accountability provision that would open the city to civil litigation if it did not enforce the organic rules. The ordinance would require the city to pay the legal fees of the litigant if it lost a lawsuit.

The city also would have to create a new staff position to carry out the organic standards for treating city lawns and property.

City Manager Ron LeBlanc interpreted the proposed ordinance to mean that the employee “would have a target on their back” because of the litigation provision.

Katrina Blair, founder of the Turtle Lake Refuge and member of Team Organic, clarified that the proposal does not actually ban synthetic pesticides but would encourage the city to use organic or less-toxic pesticides whenever possible. Many proponents said that the city could still use pesticides to control the worst noxious weeds and bugs.

Organic proponents said they were simply against the overuse of chemicals.

Proponents, for example, argued that chemicals should not be used to eradicate dandelions and clover leaf for aesthetic reasons.

The ordinance will be debated again during a public hearing scheduled for Aug. 21.

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