Landscapers Used Banned Pesticide on New Marin County Bike Path

AlamedaDelPradoLanes.jpgPhoto: MCBC
Marin County's ribbon cutting and celebratory ride Monday in the Alameda del Prado bike lanes - a long-missing link in the county's North-South bikeway - was followed by the revelation that landscapers used a weedkiller banned under the county's strict pesticide law.

The $950,000 project closed a mile-long gap between Ignacio Boulevard and the Pacheco Pathway along Highway 101. About $850,000 of the funding came from a federal Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program grant to the county.

"This is a project that's been needed by cyclists in the area for over 20 years," said Kim Baenisch, executive director of the Marin County Bike Coalition.

After the CalPark Tunnel renovation and Lincoln Hill pathway are completed this fall, cyclists in Marin will have an uninterrupted 10-mile bike path through some of the most congested areas of the county.

The project, which had been in the planning stage for over five years, was complex and expensive because it entailed narrowing of the median strip, undergrounding utility lines and paving bike lanes in each direction.

It was while replanting the median strip in June that a contractor, Baumann Landscaping, applied about 100 pounds of Ronstar G, a weedkiller that is banned from use on Marin County projects, according to a report Tuesday in the Marin Independent-Journal. The newspaper's plant sits at one end of the new bike path.

Ronstar G is widely used legally throughout California on both public and private lands, and is sold through home garden centers. However, in 1998, Marin County barred the use of pesticides on county projects that contain chemicals recognized by the federal EPA as a human carcinogen or possible human carcinogen. Ronstar G fall into that category.

Baenisch said her organization wouldn't take a position on the use of the pesticide, though she noted "it's unfortunate they used this particular chemical on a bicycling facility."

Ed Hulme, the county's Director of Parks and Open Space who oversees enforcement of the county Integrated Pest Management plan, said he believed the potential exposure to cyclists was "pretty minimal" because the use of the chemical was limited to the median strip, watered down and covered with mulch.

Hulme said the regulations are usually included when contracts are awarded. The problem in this case may have stemmed from the fact the project had been in planning long before the area around the bike path was added to the county's ordinance in June 2009. "This project has been in the planning stages for years," he noted.

Baumann said nobody was available to comment.

Paul Apffel, a politically active attorney and environmentalist, said he's "a little bit dubious" of the claim the pesticide was used only in the median, but said it would require further checking to find out for sure.

Apffel made headlines in Marin last year when he reported the county had violated its own pesticide ordinance 269 times between 1999 and 2008.

He said his earlier research showed the county had sometimes used pesticides along bike paths. In some cases, when the county said a pesticide had been used in a median strip, records showed it had also been applied along the shoulder of the road, Apffel said.

Hulme said he had seen nothing to suggest that had happened along the Alameda del Prado path.