Minutes before midnight Tuesday, the Durango City Council voted 5-0 to reject a petition-driven ordinance to limit the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers on city parks and property, saying it was too ambiguous and unworkable as written.
Unless withdrawn by the citizens group Organically Managed Parks Team Durango, the proposal to encourage organic care for city-owned property will go before the voters in November, when it has a high likelihood of passing, said Paul Tukey, an organic activist who founded Safelawns.org and wrote The Organic Lawn Care Manual.
Tukey, who has helped promote restrictive ordinances for pesticides across the United States and Canada, told the council that these ballot issues typically get 60 percent of the vote.
Tukey did not play a role in drafting the proposed ordinance for Durango, but he suggested a compromise where the city offered a new policy for lawn care in exchange for the citizens group withdrawing its ballot initiative.
After the meeting, members of the group said they would have to discuss the issue before making a decision. During the meeting, group member Katrina Blair said she was uninterested in waiting “two to five years” until a consensus might be reached while city fields continued to be sprayed with chemicals.
City councilors and city staff members urged the group to consider a more collaborative approach in drafting another ordinance with various stakeholders, such as representatives for the Hillcrest Golf Course, professional pest controllers and lawn-care providers.
Councilor Sweetie Marbury, whose grandson Presley likes to play at Brookside Park, one of the city’s two organically managed parks, along with Pioneer Park, said she resented being put into in a position of having to vote up or down because the petition-driven process does not allow the City Council to tweak or change the wording in the proposed ordinance.
Councilor Dick White said he was sympathetic to the cause but he could not support the ordinance as it was written.
City Manager Ron LeBlanc said he would not know how to take direction from the ordinance because it was too ambiguous. Officials wondered how they would spray for mosquitoes. They brought up legal liabilities because the city would be open to litigation for failing to enforce regulations.
LeBlanc used the example of a downtown business owner pouring a chemical fertilizer into a city-owned planter on the sidewalk. He then questioned whether the city would be liable for the business owner’s action.
Mayor Doug Lyon rejected the proposed ordinance for lack of merit.
He rejected the fears of pesticides as threats to the public health and the environment by publicly reading aloud from websites for the Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada that have approved pesticides for public use.
After the meeting, Tukey noted that many cities in North America have banned the use of these pesticides for merely aesthetic purposes – such as getting rid of weeds such as dandelions and clover leaf – because of the health concerns.
Lyon acknowledged that pesticides are one of those issues in which neither side will ever be able to convince the other side that it’s right.
White fears that the issue will divide the public because passions are so high.
“I don’t really want to see our community go through this polarization,” White said.