An ordinance that would limit the Town’s herbicide response to noxious weeds drew the majority of citizen comments at the Board of Trustees Zoom call meeting on May 18, with strong but civil opinions voiced by both sides.
This was the second reading of the ordinance, which allowed for residents’ input. Some were proponents for limiting herbicides to those permitted on public lands by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program’s “National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.” The Town currently sprays on public spaces as well as the buy-out properties.
The discussion about spraying lasted for more than an hour. No one was in favor of indiscriminate use of chemicals on the lands, but there was some disagreement as to whether glyphosate (Roundup) should be permitted, along with other chemicals listed on the USDA National Organic Program. In the end, the board voted against the resolution, with one “aye” and six “nays.” Mayor Nick Angelo was the only vote in favor of the proposed ordinance. He was concerned that the weed mitigation might run afoul of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines.
In the worst-case scenario, the issue would have to go to the voters on a special ballot in November, possibly costing taxpayers up to $5,000. If a compromise can be reached between the Town and the petitioners, the issue will not need to go to the voters.
Advocates for the ordinance, such as Tess McDonald, spoke in favor of using integrative pest management, including botanical remedies and mechanical methods. She said that the time frame for FEMA clawbacks, during which the federal government could demand repayment of grants if certain regulations were not followed, had expired. However, Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen pointed out that the Office of the Inspector General has “ten years to close the books,” and that the process has not started yet.
Another resident, Kaia Cochran, echoed McDonald. She stated that she has cancer and cited a meta-analysis from the University of Washington that supported their positions on the negative effects of these chemicals on humans and animals. She stated that the Town has been spraying chemicals that are neurotoxic and endocrine disrupters.
Calling himself a realist, Ian Brighton spoke against the proposed cessation of the Town’s current spraying, saying he supports organics but that some synthetics are needed. Tracy Holderman was in favor of building up the soil with organic fertilizer so that noxious weeds could be defeated more readily. Robert Brakenridge suggested that there was a way to avoid the expense of a vote with some compromise.
Trustee Kenyon Waugh expressed the opinion that the Town simply has too much public land requiring weed control. In the end, the Trustees wanted some compromise on this contested issue.
Town finances were another major component of the meeting. Finance Director Jill Johnson reported that in April, sales tax revenue was down 23%. Projections for the remainder of the year indicate revenues will be down substantially. In addition to losses stemming from lower or nonexistent traffic at local businesses, the closure of the parks has resulted in a drop in fee revenue for parking and camping. “There will be challenges,” Johnson said regarding the current year’s revenues, as businesses remain closed or are operating with limited hours.
Simonsen reported that the paving of Second and McConnell Avenues was “done really well.” She also informed the Board that the Town is still getting monies from the federal government and the State for flood recovery projects, and that these projects were not in any financial jeopardy.
The proclamation concerning the conducting of Town business specific to COVID-19 was expiring the night of the meeting, but Town attorney Brandon Dittman said that it could be extended. The Town’s coronavirus response was deferred to a public meeting that took place May 20.
In his police report, Sergeant Bill Crist noted that a multi-state paving scam operation had briefly been in town last week. Thanks to a citizen call, the police responded to the scene and the scammer was arrested and taken into custody. The scam involves a person going to a home and stating that they have leftover asphalt from another job, and noticed that the homeowner had potholes or pavement that needed patching. The scammer then pockets money from the owner but does not finish the job, or tries to extort more money from the homeowner than was agreed upon. Crist also announced that National Night Out was canceled for this year.
Crist reported that six additional deputies were being hired by the County, and that there were going to be increased traffic stops planned around Lyons. There have also been additional security officers stationed in the parks on the weekends. Crist expressed concerns about the logistics of enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing regulations.
Trustee Hollie Rogin brought up an idea of making sidewalks one-way on Main Street to permit physical distancing. This was expected to be discussed further at the COVID-19 meeting on May 20.
The owners of the vacant lot between The Fork and what used to be the pharmacy offered to sell the property to the Town. David McLaughlin and Tim Schlepper reported that several potential buyers had expressed interest in the property, which includes the stone dynamite shack. They speculated that the Town could preserve that historic building and potentially use the lot for parking, food trucks, or a farm market.
The owner of the home near where the Second Avenue bridge will be rebuilt, Melissa Winkler, said she was going to get two more bids for a retaining wall and landscaping. This was discussed at the last Board meeting on May 4, and the Trustees wanted to reduce the cost. Winkler said she is willing to negotiate with the Town, and she offered a tour of her property to any Trustee to see firsthand how the project will affect her property.
Glenn Kikel, who described himself as a retired health professional, reported that he and his wife are being certified as “building biologists,” looking at problems such as mold and electromagnetic fields. He stated that the electromagnetic signals coming from the cell tower on top of Oskar Blues presented health issues for people in the vicinity. He cautioned the Board to investigate any proposed changes to existing WiFi or 5G.
The meeting went from 5:30 p.m. for an executive session, and lasted until 12:30 a.m.