HILO — A ban on the county’s use of herbicides isn’t a sure thing quite yet.
While the County Council had voted 6-3 to approve Bill 101 — the same number of affirmative votes needed to override Mayor Harry Kim’s veto — there’s no guarantee all six council members who previously voted yes on the bill will also agree to override the veto.
Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz had voted “kanalua yes,” or yes with reservations on the bill. She spent Friday meeting with, among others, Beyond Pesticides, the nonprofit that brought the bill to the county, and Kim.
Kierkiewicz was playing her cards close to the vest when asked Friday about her vote, saying she looks forward to a “robust discussion.”
“While Bill 101 was in committee, and before the council, I questioned word choice, process for implementation, and feasibility, but supported the intent, which is why I voted with reservations. While the council can direct the administration to do things through ordinances, it is critical department leadership and their staff be involved so we craft sound policy that translates to successful implementation,” Kierkiewicz said. “I wish more was done to resolve concerns by some of my colleagues and the administration before the final vote was taken to ensure affected departments were on board and there was unanimous support from the council.”
The vote is scheduled to take place Wednesday, with public testimony allowed at the start of the 9 a.m. session. The meeting will be held in Hilo, with public participation also available via videoconferencing from the West Hawaii Civic Center, the Waimea and Pahoa council offices, the old Kohala courthouse and the Naalehu state office building.
Bill 101, sponsored by Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, would, over a four-year period, prohibit the use of Roundup and 22 other weedkillers in parks and alongside roads, bike-ways, sidewalks, trails, drainage-ways and waterways owned or maintained by the county.
It would not affect the use of any herbicides on privately owned farms, or by organizations or individuals independent of the county such as Big Island Invasive Species Committee or privately owned landscaping companies.
Villegas has garnered support for the bill from 13 physicians and other health professionals who cite scientific studies showing the toxic effect of herbicides and other pesticides on humans, particularly children. Cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage and birth defects are among the hazards cited in a letter attached to a Thursday press release from Villegas.
“I’m grateful to the medical community for speaking out in support of Bill 101. This is a group of professionals who rarely speaks up on political issues, so it shows me just how important it is that we pass this measure to protect our keiki from harm,” Villegas said in a statement. “Concerns about cost and logistics are valid, but not insurmountable, and should never come before the health of our keiki.”
Kim last month exercised his first veto of this term, sending a four-page letter to the council specifying his concerns with Bill 101. Among them are regulatory questions over whether it’s the federal, state or local government’s jurisdiction, as well as operational and cost concerns in changing how the county handles weeds. It details a series of suggestions that would make the bill acceptable to the administration.
“The county does not have the level of expertise to identify herbicides as ‘causing high risk of exposure,’ as ‘dangerous chemicals’ or as ‘harmful chemicals’,” Kim said in the veto letter. “The bill disregards the national and state regulations in place to ensure the safety of people who use herbicides as well as those who work and play in areas where herbicides are used.”
The administration has brought back former Highway Division Chief Stanley Nakasone on an 89-day contract to help oversee the process of weaning the county off herbicides, whether or not the veto is overridden. Nakasone, who retired in 2013 after 45 years at the Department of Public Works, had a $10,000-per-month contract in 2017 as a Civil Defense emergency response trainer.
The latest contract pays him $60 an hour for a maximum of 19 hours a week, according to the Department of Human Resources. He’ll be using his expertise to identify best ways of transitioning from herbicides, Kim said.