City OKs lands plan

Consultant will aid in developing organic policy

The Durango City Council approved a $36,000 appropriation Tuesday for a consultant to develop an organically managed land policy that would minimize the use of synthetic pesticides on city-owned property.

The compromise then led a citizens group, Organically Managed Parks Durango, to withdraw a ballot initiative that would have put a much-criticized ordinance before the voters in November.

“This $36,000 is a more effective way to spend money than on an election that would be very divisive,” said City Councilor Christina Rinderle.

City staff members, professional lawn-care providers, soccer moms and board members of the Hillcrest Golf Course had opposed the ballot initiative as too onerous and for “unintended consequences” in its ordinance language, such as possibly limiting mosquito spraying in the city.

The new proposal commits the city to making its best effort in developing an organic policy that would be phased in over time. Mayor Doug Lyon liked that the city has some wiggle room if organic treatments do not work out. The consultant will be tasked with coming up with a way to evaluate the program.

“If we’re not successful (with organic treatments), we’ll move onto plan B, whatever that is,” said Lyon, who has been outspoken in rejecting the health and environmental fears associated with synthetic pesticides.

Recognizing that pesticides are such a contentious issue, Lyon told his critics in audience, “Heck, you won’t have to worry about me. I will be term-limited off (in 2013).”

If the city had not accepted the compromise, it would have had to risk the outcome of an election. The council’s only other option was to approve the special election. Since the City Council had rejected the organic group’s ordinance on Aug. 21, city staff members had communicated daily with them to find a compromise.

“We were literally under the gun to get this done,” Councilor Paul Broderick said.

As soon as the council voted 5-0 for the $36,000 appropriation from the surplus in the city’s general fund, the organic group publicly requested the council to withdraw its ballot initiative and metaphorically extended the olive branch.

Tricia Gourley said she wanted to “bridge any division and find the way to peace.”

Organic member Katrina Blair praised everyone involved in the debate for their wisdom.

“I am grateful we had a discussion on a large scale,” Blair said.

After the meeting, Hillcrest Golf Club board member David Gore said he approved of the compromise because “we all want what’s best for our kids” who play in city parks.

The mayor also praised the work of City Attorney David Smith for finding a solution that seemed to make most people happy, although some professional lawn-care providers left the meeting refusing to comment.

“Mr. Smith, you’re off to the Middle East next,” Lyon said.

Under the compromise, a selection committee made up of an organic advocate, City Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz and County Extension Agent Darrin Parmenter will choose the organic consultant.

The consultant will evaluate the soil of city parks and other irrigated city property and then propose a maintenance program and provide training to city staff members.

The City Council would then discuss the policy proposal in a study session before it would go to councilors for approval and implementation.