Council forced to rewrite ordinance to ban drench insecticide
The Fairfield City Council has had to scale back its efforts to control the use of drench insecticide in the city limits.
In February, the council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that would have banned drench insecticides, out of a fear of the insecticides contaminating the ground water and killing bees, birds, squirrels and other animals.
However, since the passage of the first reading, the council was forced to change the language of the ordinance after discovering the ordinance would run afoul of state code section 206.34, which prohibits local governments from adopting legislation relating to the use, sale, distribution, storage, transportation, disposal, formulation, labeling, registration or manufacture of a pesticide. It states that local legislation in violation of the code is void and unenforceable.
After learning of the applicable state code, the council altered the language of the ordinance before approving its second reading March 10. While the state code does not allow cities to regulate pesticides or insecticides for personal use, it does allow cities to regulate commercial pesticide. If the city passes the third reading of the ordinance Monday, the ban on drench insecticides would still apply to commercial operations.
The code defines a pesticide as any substance intended for destroying or repelling insects, rodents, nematodes, etc. In this case, the city council is worried about residents applying drench insecticide to combat the emerald ash borer, which was discovered in Fairfield in 2013.
Fairfield city councilor Michael Halley was disappointed to learn state law prohibits the council from banning or even regulating pesticides.
“It’s unfortunate that state laws exist that weaken our local right to protect our citizens, wildlife, and water supply,” he said. “Local rights versus industrial interests have been and will continue to be an issue of contention across the country. This is an instance where I believe our state legislators got it wrong by putting private interests before public safety.”
Halley said the irony is that the commercial applicators aren’t the entities the city is worried about. He said the city is more worried about people who are unfamiliar with chemicals and who may apply too much to the soil. He said there has already been a case in Des Moines of a person being fined for using an illegally large amount of insecticide on his own property.
The second reading of the ordinance the council passed March 10 exempted agricultural land from the insecticide ban.
Halley expects one addition to be made to the ordinance before it comes before the council for a third and potentially final time Monday. He would like it to say that drench insecticides will be banned from all city property including the parks and “parking,” the grassy area between the sidewalk and street.
The city’s proposed ban on insecticides does not apply to injectable insecticides that are inserted directly into the tree. However, in order for injectable insecticides to be effective, they must be injected every year.
No known remedy exists for exterminating ash borers.
Tivon Feeley, a forester with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, commented, “It is here to stay. It is a pest that we will learn to live with.”
Halley said although the ash borer was discovered in town just last year, it has most likely been here for three to five years and simply gone undetected.
The borers slowly kill an ash tree by preventing the tree from transporting nutrients from its roots to its canopy. This causes the limbs to become brittle and break easily. The city is considering steps to remove a certain number of ash trees on public property before they become brittle and present a danger to the public.
Halley said between 12-15 percent of the trees in the city’s right-of-way are ash trees. In certain parks, the figure is much higher. Half of the trees in Central Park are ash and in O.B. Nelson Park ash trees make up three-quarters of the population.
In an effort to prepare for a time when the ash trees have all died, the Fairfield Arbor Committee has made plans to plant new trees to replace the ash trees. Committee member Scott Timm said the committee is planning to plant 70 trees – 14 different species – in Central Park and O.B. Nelson Park on Arbor Day, April 25. The trees will be paid for from grants received from organizations such as Trees Forever and the Fairfield RAGBRAI Committee.