Residents blast county's weed-spraying policy

A coalition of Whidbey Island residents concerned with the county's policy of spraying roadside vegetation with herbicides gathered at Monday's county commissioners' meeting to air their grievances.

One after the other, individuals o many of them holding up respirator masks to signify their chemical sensitivity o testified before commissioners during the 15 minutes usually set aside for public input. The unscheduled hearing went well beyond the limits of the public input session. Commissioners wound up hearing 15 separate testimonies over the course of 90 minutes.

"You all know me," said Theresa Ghandi, the first to speak.

She professed her outrage that the county commissioners have failed to act on what she declared as ithe facts on converting to no spray.i She accused the board of "malfeasance, misfeasance and non-feasance," offenses she classified as justification for impeachment.

Wearing a red, white and blue tie and cowboy boots, Ghandi claimed lawyers had informed her the commissioners could be included in a wrongful death suit pending her own autopsy.

Other various testimonies mixed personal anecdotes with statements of scientific findings by various doctors and health experts. Beverly Graham, a Clinton-area musician, told stories of her own challenges with a compromised immune system. She said the county's policy of spraying amounted to nothing less than bio-terrorism.

"I'm not a crackpot, and I'm not a fanatic, most of the time," said Graham. "My rights as a human being to safe public access is denied to me every April through October through spraying."

She called herself a "canary," a reference to the age-old practice of sending birds into coal mines to test for poisonous gases.

The commissioners were presented with a petition of 1,275 signatures from Island County residents, asking the county to cease spraying. They also gave the commissioners a ream of other documents concerning the use of chemical herbicides such as Roundup Pro, Oust and Direx.

Melinda and David Gladstone of South Whidbey, in a joint testimony, said that the countyis spray policy raises serious health, environmental, scientific, moral, and ethical issues o the last of which they characterized as the Hamlet-like conundrum of ito spray or not to spray.i

iWe view the seasonal, methodical spraying of pesticides as an act of terrorism right here on Whidbey Island," said David Gladstone.

Clinton resident Tom Fisher, representing the Island County Citizenis Growth Management Coalition, said that the county is running out of time when it comes to taking action.

iThere is no longer room for debate on this,i he said.

Clintonis Margeret Moore said she moved to Whidbey Island to practice healthy living and organic farming.

iWeire playing with poison,i she said. iIt feels like a life and death issue to me.i

At the end of the hearing, commissioners Bill Thorn and Mac McDowell both expressed concern over certain individual testimonies. McDowell said he was touched by one womanis story of being caught behind a spray truck, after which she suffered physical ailments. Thorn said the proliferation of chemicals in the atmosphere has long been a concern to him.

"I personally believe that there is a major concern here," said Thorn.

He added any action the board might take regarding the use of herbicides and pesticides would be founded in scientific fact rather than emotions and anecdotal evidence.

Laurie Keith, president of the Whidbey Island No Spray coalition (WINS), said in a Tuesday interview that she takes exception to such science versus emotion arguments.

"I think that's kind of an out-of-date way of looking at things," Keith said about Thorn's statements. She said hard data is often questionable because it is provided by "various sources that have an agenda."

Despite such criticisms, Keith said she felt the testimonies made an impact on the commissioners.

"I think they're thinking about it," she said. "They weren't expecting it. I think they're going to have to do something. I just hope they think clearly and really look at this and do their homework."

Keith praised the individual testimonies as "very thorough and articulate and convincing," adding that WINS and other organizations have no agenda beyond spreading the word about the possible dangers of chemical spraying.

"We're going to be continuing with public outreach," said Keith.

Another hearing concerning the county's existing roadside spray policy is set for Monday at 1:30 p.m. in the Island County Annex in Coupeville.

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