Kelp and molasses

Consultant’s plan for the city’s parks could be mistaken for a Snowdown routine

It was tempting at first to congratulate the city of Durango on its sense of humor. Here it is, almost time for Snowdown, and the city was getting into the spirit of things with talk about spraying city parks with a mixture of kelp and molasses.

Kelp and molasses! With a punch line like that there has to be a joke (or a pony) in there somewhere.

The worry, of course, is that rather than the basis of a stand-up routine, it appears the city may be serious about this. It has reportedly spent $36,000 on a consultant, and officials are talking about trying to find another $100,000 to implement the plan.

It is a better fit for Snowdown. Durango’s winter festival is known for alternating between being bawdy and silly. It deserves the rights to “kelp and molasses.”

About all that would be missing would be some way to work hemp into the mix. Or maybe patchouli oil. Or, incense and peppermints. And unicorns! (Their sharp little hooves could aerate the turf.) Rainbows and dolphins would surely follow.

Failing that, the city could go old-school and adorn each park with a pat of butter and a generous helping of Mrs. Butterworth’s. A good Follies act could do justice to that and more.

The trouble is, if the city really is intent on spending $100,000 on kelp and molasses, the Snowdown routine sours a bit. There is not much humor in diverting municipal money to such a questionable proposition

At a public meeting last Tuesday morning, a local lawn-care professional estimated that “the capital costs and the consultant’s fee ... for the nine parks is going to be approximately four to five times as much as what it costs to do all the parks for a whole season.” No one disputed his estimate.

And what does the city get for that? Supposedly the kelp and molasses mixture is “cost-neutral.” However, it needs to be applied by a motorized sprayer expected to cost $100,000.

(Even that part sounds familiar: “Just pay separate shipping and handling.”)

The question of the $100,000 led to a discussion of raising the money privately. At least one councilor thought there could be strong public support for what the city manager termed a “molasses drive.”

And there could be. But then again, perhaps there is not. It might behoove the city to answer that question before delving too much further into kelp or molasses.

The underlying problem is that the city is moving ahead with this effort in response to no demonstrated problem and toward no widely agreed upon goal. There is no evidence the city has been irresponsible with lawn-care chemicals, no evidence anyone has been in any way harmed, and no broader discussion of how this might affect golfers, soccer teams or city taxpayers.

Ask people – in no particular context and with no mention of cost or other affects – if they would like chemical-free parks (or any other happy-sounding phrase), and the answer will certainly be “yes.”Ask how much they would be willing to sacrifice for it, and the response might be different.

Nonetheless, the city caved in last year to a small special-interest group’s threat to put a chemical-free parks measure on the ballot. Rather than risk the cost that could have resulted from its passage – and rather than trust the electorate to understand the issue – the council agreed to fund the consultant who then came up with the kelp and molasses plan.

That was bad enough, but actually contemplating spending even more money is worse. A better idea might be simply to drop this business and focus on more pressing city business. Snowdown can handle the jokes without hiring consultants.