(BIVN) – The possible impact of a coming ban on the use of herbicides by Hawaiʻi County maintenance crews was debated last week.
The Hawaiʻi County Council voted to pass Bill 101 on final reading during its November 20 meeting in Hilo. Bill 101 “prohibits the use of certain herbicides on County owned or maintained parks and alongside County roads, bikeways, sidewalks, trails, drainageways, and waterways.” The bill also “creates a transition committee to research and develop alternative methods of vegetation management.” The ban will take effect on January 1, 2024 and will only impact the use of herbicides by local government.
During the discussion on the bill, some councilmembers were specifically concerned over how the new law will affect the operation of the Hilo Municipal Golf Course.
“I’m actually a little disappointed,” said Hilo councilmember Sue Lee Loy. “We had heard a large request, specifically from the Parks Department, regarding somehow providing an exemption for the golf course. I was really hopeful that that’s something that would have come forward, but it didn’t.”
“My larger concern was, with the hiring of new employees, or even if we don’t get new employees,” Lee Loy said, “it’s the labor, the physical labor, that goes with that. I did some research on how many workers comp claims were made related to herbicide or pesticide use since 2014, and Hawaiʻi County has not seen one. But in that same time period we have seen 33 claims filed for injuries related to mower use, weed eater use, or equipment and grass-cutting use, to the tune of $382,000 dollars.”
“In order for them to maintain the greens, they need the selective poisoning for zoysia [grass],” added Council chair Aaron Chung, who also represents Hilo. “It’s gonna be very, very difficult for them to operate.”
Chung also had an issue with fairness. “If we’re gonna ban those chemicals on our own golf course, then any golf course that’s being subsidized by the county – you know, with our County subsidy program – should be required to not use those chemicals as well.”
“Some of the things that have happened in relation to this bill feel a lot like politics to me,” responded Kona councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, who introduced the bill. “I also am very grateful for your having pointed out the golf course. And while it’s a disappointment to you that I didn’t offer up that as a caveat for your support of the bill, I’m happy to say that I’ve done quite a bit of research. The Audubon Society is a resource to tap into for guidance on how we can transition our golf course into a pesticide free facility.”
Villegas said that while doing her research, she came across a lot of information not only “linking health issues that golf course maintenance workers are being afflicted with, but also golfers themselves.”
Villegas continued. “I just did a little bit of research about our Hilo Municipal Golf Course and where it’s located,” she said. “It’s actually located in a residential area. When I counted the [Tax Map Key] sites surrounding the golf course, I counted approximately 120.”
“I can’t help but being concerned for the people that live in those homes,” Villegas said, “because the science and the technology and the tracking is there to show that people that live within the vicinity of the golf courses are being exposed, not necessarily to their knowledge.”
The council passed Bill 101 by a 6-3 vote. Councilmembers Lee Loy and Chung voted in opposition, along with Kohala councilman Tim Richards.
This page has been updated to correct a spelling error.