HILO — A bill banning the county’s use of toxic herbicides has resurfaced at the County Council.
Bill 101, sponsored by Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, will be heard Oct. 15 by the council sitting as the Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management Committee. It would, over a four-year period, ban the use of herbicides in parks and alongside roads, bike-ways, sidewalks, trails, drainage-ways and waterways owned or maintained by the county.
This is the freshman council member’s first bill, and Villegas said Monday she worked for months with the stakeholders and Mayor Harry Kim’s administration to get buy-in. She held meetings and introduced the administration in June to Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who won the first lawsuit against Monsanto after contracting non-Hodgkins lymphoma from exposure to glyphosate as a school groundskeeper in California.
“I want this to be empowering and supportive of the departments as they go through the transition,” Villegas said. “I have a 9-month old grandson. When he’s old enough to be running around in the parks, I would really like to know that he’s not exposed to toxic herbicides that might be carcinogenic and do long-term damage.”
The bill calls for a transition period starting Jan. 1, with an outright ban being implemented by Jan. 1, 2024. A seven-member “vegetation management transition committee,” appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council, will monitor the county’s progress during the transition period.
Rules would be put in place during the transition period for the county departments of Environmental Management, Parks and Recreation and Public Works requiring posted notices, blocking off of areas treated during a drying period, the use of a blue dye to identify treated areas and adherence to label directions, such as restrictions during wind and rain conditions.
The bill doesn’t apply to private property or to citizens who maintain land adjacent to county easements or lease agricultural land from the county.
It’s not the first time a bill restricting herbicides has been offered, but Villegas is hopeful the latest bill will have a better chance of passing.
Former Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille twice sponsored bills along the same vein, but twice was rebuffed by the council at the time.
In 2015, the term “Roundup” was stricken from all parts of the county budget and replaced with “vegetation control,” in a victory of words, if not deeds, for the opponents.
The move followed hours of testimony during an earlier budget reading where almost 50 people asked the county to quit using the herbicide that they say is a known carcinogen and harmful to land and water. The $30,000 for herbicide spraying accounted for a scant one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the county’s budget that year.
The current bill is championed by the Hawaii Island Sierra Club and the local citizen group Greener Hawaii.
“The notion that the county cannot afford alternatives to Roundup has proven false time and again,” Greener Hawaii volunteer Diane Koerner said in a statement. “Efforts to ‘green’ Hawaii’s parks and roadsides began in the 1990s with five trial oceanfront parks in Hilo and 20 miles of roads. They were manually maintained, which required some volunteer help in the beginning, but cost less in the long run.”
Villegas credited former County Councilwoman Jennifer Ruggles, and her legislative aide, Blake Watson, for drafting the original bill that she’s picked up now that Ruggles is no longer in office.
Representatives from the administration were not immediately available for comment.