A Few Minutes With: Director Kelly Smith of the Newaygo County Road Commission
I would like to address the concerns over the use of chemical sprays for brush control.
For years we have struggled to keep up with the overgrown roadsides, we have purchased larger more modern equipment, we have contracted with commercial roadside mowers, we have dedicated more finances and resources than ever just to fall further and further behind.
Our customer concerns over shortened sight distance and obscured signs had grown to epidemic proportions and mowing has shown to give us a very short window of relief as well as in some cases just spreading the regrowth. In short, we needed a longer lasting, cost effective remedy to resolve our safety concern. Now that does not mean we completely ignore the environmental, we rely on those governmental entities as well as the industry professionals to guide us in a program. That is where MDEQ ( now known as EGLE) comes in, our licensed spray contractor must work with and through EGLE for their approval before spraying.
So we decided it was time to work on a plan to reclaim the r-o-w and provide a reasonable amount of clear vision along and down the roadsides. The plan would entail picking those townships that were deemed most in need, and move our “ brush hogs” as we call them in and start mowing. We then would schedule the application for the following late spring, early summer, and our intent is to mainly target the regrowth at ground level and avoid as much as possible the low hanging limbs. Now keep in mind we have 2 machines to cover 24 townships with 1400 miles of roadway and it can take 2 months to cover a township depending on brush density and terrain. Also keep in mind depending on weather , we may only get 8 months of mowing, as once snow banks get established mowing stops and not to mention that sometimes other issues take precedence over mowing and it is put on hold. So in reality, 5-6 years is a realistic timeline to cover the county and that simply will not keep up with the growth.
We have been spraying for 3 years now, the first year was in small targeted areas to see how it performed on the woody/brush, and what impacts it had on the vegetation we were not trying to address and what if any regrowth we saw the following year. The results were promising, virtually zero regrowth of brush, non targeted vegetation seemed unaffected, and it was cost effective. We then moved forward with a plan on a township to township basis, again we mowed one year and sprayed the next and only targeting woody/brushy vegetation with a select spray formula and only spot spraying, not wholesale complete roadside spraying. For the most part it went unnoticed for a couple seasons until now. Yes, we see the dead and dying leaves in the non-mowed areas, not at all what we are looking for. Again, we are hoping to target ground level sprout regrowth and the fact is we stepped our program and at this time it is unsightly and we apologize for that. But we also see the results from the previous years application and there is a dramatic difference in appearance and we expect the same in a few months from this years application.
Now as for the debate over the use of chemicals in general, I am not going too. We rely on the agencies that govern their use, professionals that are trained in the field and those that have the knowledge of the proper, safe and effective uses of said chemicals. But what I will say is, we see them everywhere in everyday uses, farm fields, powerlines, drain ditches, yards, golf courses, they are everywhere. We have conservation districts asking for herbicide treatment for invasive species, we have been required to spray/treat areas as part of bridge projects. Yes we know that some are completely against any and all chemicals and we certainly will entertain alternatives that are approved and proven to be effective.
The Reader's Digest version.
We know some do not like the application of chemicals, we hear you and we will be mindful of it as we work to provide you a reasonably safe and efficient road system. We ask that you have some faith in us and know we aren’t just out there looking kill all vegetation known to man and we do try and be educated on these sensitive issues.
We see the results of this years application at this stage of the program and we do not like its appearance either, we can do better and we will.
Moving forward we will have the contractor back for a road trip around the townships treated this year versus previous years and give them guidance as to our wishes for them to mainly focus on ground spray more than low hanging limbs.
In closing, I can assure you all, staff here takes your impression of them and the work they do, seriously and even personally, as they are out there for you. We will make adjustments moving forward in an effort to provide the road system you need in as safe, cost effective and environmentally friendly manner.