HILO — A ban on the county’s use of weedkillers in parks and along its highways advanced Wednesday on an 8-1 vote, although some members of the County Council asked for more clarification before its final vote later this month.
Bill 101, sponsored by Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, would over a four-year period ban the use of herbicides in parks and alongside roads, bikeways, sidewalks, trails, drainage-ways and waterways owned or maintained by the county. The bill includes a lengthy list of specific chemicals to be banned.
“We do have the capability as well as the responsibility as a county,” said Villegas. “I feel like the community has spoken and asked us to change the way we care for public spaces.”
Kohala Councilman Tim Richards was the sole no vote. He worried about the financial impact of increased manpower and the carbon impact of increased mowing machinery, as well as the precedent set that he feared could lead to a ban that also affects the private sector.
“If we remove all the ability to use any of these things going forward, we’re going to be shortsighted,” Richards said. “I believe that this is a conversation about safety and about responsible use of the products.”
Hilo Council members Sue Lee Loy and Aaron Chung, the council chairman, said they’d like to see more tweaks before the final vote. Both were concerned about how Hilo Municipal Golf Course could be managed without herbicides.
“We’ve got to figure out where the knots are and get them untangled,” Lee Loy said.
Cost was also a cause for concern, with Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen estimating she’d need 400 additional park-maintenance workers at about $39,000 salaries each to pull weeds and keep the 183 parks at their current conditions.
Public Works Director David Yamamoto said he’d also need more staff and equipment, but he currently has “no idea” how much that will cost. The department would hire a consultant to figure it all out, he said.
Both departments said they’ve already cut their herbicide use by half. In addition, four parks have been selected for pilot projects that involve the cessation of herbicide use.