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Spray issue lingers on South Whidbey

Tom Fallon is the father of two children who play at South Whidbey Community Park. He is also the maintenance supervisor for South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District.

As a father he understands concerns other parents have about the use of chemical herbicides in areas where children play, and as the person in charge of 110 acres of park property and play fields, his job is to control weeds. These may seem like contradictory positions, but Fallon doesn't see it that way.

"Our policy at the district is to spray on an as-needed basis," Fallon said.

But as Island County ends its roadside herbicide program this spring, the parks district, as well as local golf courses, schools and Highway 525, may be the next target in front of South Whidbey's powerful anti-spray lobby.

Laurie Keith, the president of the Whidbey Island No Spray Coalition, credits the parks district for doing a pretty good job with little manpower and money. Nonetheless she said she is hoping her group's recent victory over Island County's spray program might inspire others, including the parks district, homeowner associations and individuals to follow the county's example.

Maybe.

At the community park, where Fallon is the only full-time groundskeeper, the conservative use of spray -- meaning spot spraying Roundup at fence lines, paths and infields with backpack sprayer -- is the norm. Otherwise, Mother Nature does the rest.

"The best weed control is keeping the turf healthy and dense," Fallon said.

This year, Roundup isn't the only weed killer in the park's arsenal. Fallon is trying some vinegar-based products on weeds, but due to lack of manpower and funding they are not as efficient to use. The products must to be used in temperatures higher than 70 degrees to be effective and require repeat applications.

The district has more than doubled in size during the past three years, growing from 40 acres to 120. With the addition of about 20 acres of new soccer fields on Langley Road, Fallon said it is difficult for him and his part-time maintenance worker to keep up without herbicides.

"The lack of manpower really impacts us," said Fallon.

Still, Fallon likes to talk about the chemicals he doesn't use. That list includes both herbicides and pesticides.

"We don't use fungicides, and we let the crows control crane flies which are a nuisance in September," he said. "They are everywhere. But it is a threshold we allow."

Last year, parks staff applied herbicides six times. The year before, the chemicals were needed only three times.

Spraying chemicals on an as-needed basis is a common philosophy.

Rick Pitt, maintenance supervisor for the South Whidbey School District said fertilizers and a little Roundup goes a long way.

"Every three years of so, we use an organic fertilizer on the lawns and do spot spraying with Roundup on the perimeter of the high school track," he said. "If we didn't keep weeds and grass back from the track, it would grow under and buckle the asphalt."

Pitt said most of the spraying done on school property is done during spring and summer vacation. The district posts signs warning of chemical use on its property 48 hours before and after spraying chemicals.

Dave Anderson, owner of Clinton's nine-hole Island Greens Golf Course, said he, too, will use the occasional chemical herbicide, but not much of it.

"My philosophy is to not use many chemicals," he said. "I probably use less on my 16 acres than what some people use on their lawn each year."

He said is case is unusual. Many golf courses, he said, make heavy use of chemicals and fertilizers.

"Some larger golf courses uses boom sprayers to treat the entire area with fertilizer and weed controls."

Keith said she would like to see more movement away from chemicals. For example, she said the parks district could use a radiant heat machine to kill weeds in the infield areas. In a meeting with parks officials, she offered help from WINS to raise the $175 the district would need to purchase one.

"Basically it is a propane heated plant that kills the weeds and any seeds near the surface," she said.

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