Caltrans has given San Mateo County residents some good news and some bad news about the state's plans for spraying herbicides alongside local state highways.
Part of the good news is that after years of requests from local residents, Caltrans officials say they will post message boards along the highway warning when they are about to spray herbicides.
The bad news on that subject: The signs may not actually mention herbicides or spraying until the spraying is over.
Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro said Caltrans will post at least two changeable message boards on Highway 84 (Woodside/La Honda/San Gregorio Road) and will probably also post signs on Highway 35 (Skyline Boulevard) near its intersection with Highway 84.
"The message will probably say something like "Weed Abatement/Moving Closure/Possible Delays" with the date, she said.
The message boards will go up three days before the spraying and stay until one day after the work has been completed, Ms. Navarro said. After the spraying is completed the message board will say the herbicide spraying has been completed.
More bad news from Caltrans is that despite recent reassurances that it would not do so, the agency plans to spray herbicides within the town limits of Woodside.
"Caltrans does not have a maintenance agreement with the town of Woodside, therefore it is Caltrans' responsibility to maintain State Route 84" in the town, Ms. Navarro said. "There will be spot spraying in the town of Woodside in 2016."
Paul Nagengast, Woodside's deputy town manager and town engineer, said he had "always believed (Caltrans') herbicide program started at Skyline Boulevard and went west." Mr. Nagengast said he is not sure if spraying within Woodside town limits by Caltrans is new or if the town has "just never been advised before."
Woodside "does not use herbicides to control weeds," Mr. Nagengast said. "Town staff trims, mows and cuts as part of our vegetation management program adjacent to roadways."
Residents attending a public workshop on Nov. 5 also learned that despite years of public assurances that Caltrans does not spray where residents post "No Spray" signs, the agency does not actually honor the signs.
As recently as Oct. 23, in an email to the Almanac, Ms. Navarro said Caltrans would not spray within 25 feet of private property "if a no spray sign is posted." At the Nov. 5 meeting, however, residents learned Caltrans will spray on its right-of-way, despite no spray signs, unless residents have signed an agreement stating that they will eliminate any weeds in front of their own property.
"The consent form is tailored per property owner, meaning it would need to be created as it is requested," Ms. Navarro said.
In addition, unless the property owner has an encroachment permit from Caltrans, taking on all liability for maintenance issues, the consent form must be signed each time Caltrans sprays, Ms. Navarro now says.
Responding to recent requests from a wide array of local groups, farmers and ranchers, and public officials to stop broadcast spraying herbicides along San Mateo County highways, Caltrans said in September that it will start a pilot program on Highway 84 between Portola Road in Woodside and the coast in which broadcast spraying of herbicides will occur only on the westbound side of Highway 84 while mechanical mowing and other manual weed control, including mulching, will be used on the eastbound side.
A map on a flier about the program shows herbicide spraying for a little less than 14 miles from Portola Road in Woodside to El Corte Madera Road past La Honda, with a few areas as "no spray" zones.
More bad news may be the chemicals Caltrans plans to spray. Many of the residents who live near the area to be sprayed use local creeks and ditches for irrigation or drinking water and have wells near creeks. A list of chemicals to be applied on Highway 84 includes Esplanade 200-SC, made by Bayer. The Esplanade 200-SC label says it is "toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, and plants. Do not apply directly to water, or to areas where surface water is present."
The label also advises that the chemical "may leach into ground water in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow."
"This product is classified as having a high potential for reaching surface water via runoff for several months or more after application," the label says.
Others who live near the areas to be sprayed are organic farmers, whose crops could be ruined if the chemicals drift onto their property. Much of the area is near the coast, where there are frequent winds. The label says: "Drift potential increases if wind is in excess of 10 mph, gusty, or below 2 mph (due to inversion potential)."
Another chemical on the list is Milestone. It warns not to use "inside banks or bottoms of irrigation ditches, either dry or containing water, or other channels that carry water that may be used for irrigation or domestic purposes."
Other chemicals on the Caltrans list for use along Highway 84 include Accord XRT II, Activator 90 and Matrix SG.
For more information about the Caltrans pilot program or a no-spray agreement, contact Gidget Navarro at email@example.com or (510) 286-5574.
See an earlier story here.