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Publication Date: Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Portola Valley: Town to spray herbicides on trails despite objections Portola Valley: Town to spray herbicides on trails despite objections (November 27, 2002)

By Sharon Driscoll

Almanac Staff Writer

Portola Valley's Town Council has approved staff recommendations to spray herbicides on about 10 town trails despite the objections of the Trails Committee and the possible resignation of the committee's chair.

Public Works Director Howard Young said the town, as an experiment, halted spraying for a year, but this resulted in much staff time being spent on clearing weeds from trails.

"By taking the emphasis of our labor off repeated weed whacking, we can focus on other trail maintenance," Mr. Young said. Manual clearing of trails takes two to four times the effort required when trails are sprayed to control weed buildup, he said.

The council took the action November 13. In a memo to the council dated November 13, the Trails Committee said the "staff spraying list is considerably greater in scope and often incongruent with the committee's recommendations."

The committee, which for environmental reasons discourages use of herbicides on trails, suggested more targeted spraying in problem areas, rather than blanketed spraying of entire trails, so that less spraying would be required.

In an October staff memo, Director of Administrative Services Barbara Powell defended spraying trails in their entirety because it would be "difficult and more costly" to spot spray and "administratively burdensome to oversee."

The disconnect between staff and the Trails Committee was evident during the discussion.

"We suggested some trails that are not appropriate for spraying, yet there was no discussion from staff about their recommendation to spray those trails anyway. We deserve the courtesy of someone coming back to explain their reasoning," said Trails Committee Chair Dr. Mary Hufty, who added that she is considering resigning from her position.

Mr. Young discounted concerns over the environmental impact of the pre-emergent herbicide spray the town would use, saying he believes it to be safe.

Councilman Ted Driscoll agreed with staff's recommendation to spray now not only to save on labor, but also as a pre-emptive measure to minimize the use of more potent herbicides once weeds take hold.

"I'm concerned that if we don't get pre-emergent spray down, we'll rely on 'Round-Up' sprays later," he said.

Dr. Hufty said she is concerned that herbicides would be used in watershed areas. Mr. Young told the council that the town "will not spray along creeks."

The town is now taking bids for the work, and Mr. Young said he hopes it will be completed before the next big rain.


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