Former first selectman calls for investigation into use of weed killer in Stonington

Stonington — Former First Selectman Donald Maranell called on the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday night to initiate an investigation into the steps that led to the increased spraying of weed killer along town roads.

The town undertook the spraying after the breakdown of a 15-year-old flail mower the highway department uses to cut the weeds. The spraying has prompted widespread criticism by residents on social media.

During Wednesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Maranell called on selectmen to develop a policy for spraying and notification of residents.

“The town is in an uproar about this spraying. We had this happen two to three years ago and here we are again,” he told the selectmen.

Maranell was referring to questions that former Selectman Mike Spellman raised in 2015 about the spraying of pesticides on high school athletic fields. Those questions led to a complaint by Public Works Director Barbara McKrell, who accused Spellman of harassing her based on her gender. Town Administrative Services Director Vincent Pacileo upheld her complaint.

Maranell presented selectmen with soil samples from an area that was sprayed so they could be tested, as well as photos of brown, dead weeds along scenic South Anguilla Road after spraying.

Maranell told First Selectman Rob Simmons, Selectwoman Kate Rotella and Selectman John Prue that he feels that they “got left in the dark about this” and that McKrell failed to communicate with the board. He questioned why McKrell could not have asked Simmons and the Board of Finance for an emergency appropriation of $10,000 to fix the mower before the spraying began. He pointed out that as the town nears the end of the fiscal year on June 30, there are always small pots of money left in various accounts that could have been combined to fund the repair.

He said the $3,000 the town spent to eventually rent a mower and an unknown sum for spraying would have gotten it close to the $10,000 needed for the repairs.

Simmons said at the meeting that he did not know the spraying was occurring but, as soon as he found out, he stopped it.

“I’m responsible for everything the town is doing or has done,” he said. “I’m responsible.” He likened it to a submarine or surface ship hitting something and the captain being held responsible.

Maranell said spraying took place near streams, wetlands and then Pawcatuck Little League field. While he said the Material Safety Data Sheets on the chemicals used states there is a low level of risk from them, he said their labels recommend use of goggles, gloves and washing of clothes after application.

He said the areas where the spraying took place were not marked, so residents with dogs wouldn't know to avoid them, and no prior notice of the spraying went out to residents.

After the spraying was stopped, the Board of Finance last week appropriated an additional $60,000 to buy a new mower using leftover funds in the solid waste department budget. Money for the new mower had been included in the proposed 2018-19 budget but Simmons said it was postponed to 2019-20 to help keep the tax rate low at a time when there was uncertainty about state funding cuts.

Simmons has said the town had sprayed weed killer along its roads for many years while the state has done so along routes 1 and 2 and Pequot Trail. He said the town has decreased spraying in recent years until the mower broke, which also resulted in highway employees using weed wackers that he said are inefficient and dangerous because they place the workers near moving cars.

The town hired TruGreen Rocky Hill, and the spraying was managed by a state-licensed supervisory applicator and arborist. Spot spraying was done last month at guardrails and parts of road rights of way.

Streets sprayed on May 17 and 18 were Flanders Road, Jerry Brown Road, Wheeler Road, Al Harvey Road, North Stonington Road, Stony Brook Road, Jeremy Hill Road, Taugwonk Road, Farmholme Road, Sommers Lane, Main Street, Old Mystic, Greenhaven Road, Burdick Lane, North Anguilla, South Anguilla and Stillman Avenue. The herbicides Aqua Neet and Garlon, also known as Triclopyr, were used. Triclopyr has been found to be slightly toxic to ducks, moderately toxic to fish and not toxic for humans.


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