by John Snell, Montpelier
MONTPELIER — Over a year ago a small group of us got wind that the stretch of railroad tracks that runs through Montpelier was about to be sprayed with herbicides to control the vegetation. I’d seen this happen in the past, an annual event, but had never known it was coming or how to intervene. This is the rail line that runs along the river from Pioneer Street to Granite Street and then along the bike path to Main Street, continuing through town past where the farmer’s market is, and on past the high school ball fields and tennis courts.
Several of us got together and spoke to the Vermont Pesticide Advisory Council, a state appointed board that considers the necessary permits in such situations. Vermont Pesticide Advisory Council heard our concerns and agreed to a one-year moratorium on the use of herbicides during which time they asked the owners of the line, Washington County Railroad, and their herbicide applicator to work with us to find other options.
I’m very clear that letting the vegetation grow is not an option as it could create an unsafe situation for rail traffic, even if that traffic is infrequent and moves slowly. We proposed a number of possible options, including hand clearing, flame weeding and goats, but our suggestions and willingness to provide free labor were completely ignored.
I followed up with the council a number of times since and have still not managed to have a single conversation with the owners or their contractor. Last year the vegetation was left to grow out of control, almost as a way to prove we were wrong! At this point, application to spray is permitted by Vermont Pesticide Advisory Council for the second week in July.
Although the use of herbicides is generally very carefully controlled and regulated, my concerns are several:
• Accidents can happen with serious consequences. There are gardens nearby as well as a food store and a farmer’s market that have invested heavily in organic certifications.
• Herbicides are not completely innocuous; the potential health effects of glyphosate, the one proposed for use, have been widely documented especially of late
• Some people are sensitive to herbicides; at least one person who lives nearby will need to leave home for a week after the application.
• The area along the tracks is heavily used by people walking with children and animals
I maintain the mechanical control of vegetation for a 2.5 mile stretch of line is not a huge financial burden while the benefits in protecting the people of Montpelier are significant. Applying herbicides in this situation is simply the wrong thing to do. I ask Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross to have the Vermont Pesticide Advisory Council rescind the permit to apply them and find non-chemical alternatives for vegetation control.