Time for the City of Albany to Enforce the Pesticide Ordinance

It has been said that environmental problems are often the result of bad government. That certainly is true in the case of the Pesticide Ordinance enacted by the City of Albany in 1998.

One of the issues at hand at the time the ordinance was written was the use of pesticides in bodies of water within the City. That, apparently, was how the Water Department and its Commissioner, Robert Cross, got involved.

The Ordinance was enacted by the Albany Common Council in 1998 with the guidance and assistance of members of some of the state-wide environmental groups headquartered in Albany. Therefore, there was unusually adequate help in formulating the ordinance.

Unfortunately, once it was enacted by the Common Council, it was ignored by the Jennings Administration and never implemented. At the time the Ordinance was passed by the Common Council and for many years thereafter, Willard Bruce was the Commissioner of the Department of General Services (the agency responsible for maintaining the City parks and golf course, at the time).

Cross is still the Water Commissioner. Bruce, while he receives his City pension and is technically retired from the City, is presently the lead consultant and is paid by the City taxpayers to plan the expansion of the Rapp Road landfill.

Why was the Albany Pesticide Ordinance ignored by these City administrators from 1998 until the matter was brought to the public’s attention in 2010?

That’s a good question which has yet to be answered.

The maintenance superintendent of the Albany Municipal Golf Course, as well as the Jennings allies on the Pesticide Committee, have indicated they want the golf course, and perhaps other areas, to be exempt from pesticide restrictions. Various arguments have been put forth in support of this exemption. One is that it is impossible to maintain a golf course without the use of pesticides. When it was pointed out that there are local golf courses, such as the Bethlehem Municipal Golf Course (Colonial Greens), that address the problems of pests without using chemical pesticides, the assertion was made that Albany can’t use those methods because it’s bigger than Colonial Greens. The size of a golf course, whether it is nine holes (like Colonial Greens) or 18 holes (like Albany Municipal), has nothing to do with the ability to maintain the course without the use of pesticides. It is not size-dependent.

Another argument made was that it was much more expensive to maintain a course without the use of pesticides. But the Bethlehem golf course’s website proudly points out that they found it was less expensive to maintain the course without pesticides, i.e. they have actually saved money.

Whether it costs more or less to maintain a golf course without using pesticides is secondary to the concern that should be raised over the effects of pesticides on humans, wildlife, fowl and the water.

And yes, the Bethlehem course is smaller. In fact it is only nine holes, while Albany’s course is 18 holes. But Albany residents are paying only $17 to play 18 holes while Bethlehem residents are paying only four dollars less ($13) to play only nine holes. If an Albany resident were to play at the Colonie Municipal golf course, it would cost $21 for 18 holes. Sounds like it’s time to raise the greens fees at the Albany Municipal Golf course so that there is sure to be money available to properly maintain it without using pesticides.

So what is the most important reason for the Jennings Administration’s resistance to (finally) implementing the Pesticide Ordinance after lo these many years. Willard Bruce wants to use a very toxic herbicide to the area of the landfill expansion in preparation for “restoring” the Pine Bush habitat on the area after the landfill is closed. This toxic herbicide would be used as an easy and convenient way to remove undesirable species of plants, trees and bushes (the alternative would be to mechanically remove these plants). Using a toxic herbicide as part of a restoration process for a very sensitive environmental habitat is beyond ridiculous.

Jennings allies on the Pesticide Committee have used all manner of excuses for continuing with this toxic herbicide landfill plan. They have claimed that DEC has ordered them to do this – This is absolutely false, the City’s consultants proposed this plan of action and it wasn’t DEC’s idea. The argument then shifted to that of the plan coming out of years of negotiation between DEC and the City – The City still was the party which proposed the plan to DEC; DEC did not propose the plan and never does in these situations. DEC only approves plans, such as this one. The City can ask DEC for permission to change the plan. It has been done before and it can be done again. But the City is unwilling to ask for a change in the plan. They know that would open the door to requests for other changes to the plan which environmental advocates want.

So, how do pesticides pose risks to humans and other animals? Pesticides get into the air during and after spraying and are conveyed by the wind some distances. They also are moved to other locations by water. Some of these pesticides may end up in the streets, whereupon they are put into the air by street sweeping and blown to further locations.

While pesticides are unhealthy and dangerous for adult humans, they are especially dangerous to small children and pets. Because small children and pets are in fact small and lighter in weight than adults, the amount of a pesticide which is dangerous to small children and pets is only a fraction of the amount of chemical necessary to cause damage to an adult.

Small children and pets are also at greater risk to pesticide damage because they typically spend time crawling on the ground, where pesticides are found. It’s the nature of small children to put their fingers or hands in their mouths, thereby ingesting the chemicals. Household pets ingest these chemicals as a result of their normal grooming habits.

The 1998 Pesticide Ordinance of the City of Albany should definitely not be weakened. If anything, it should be strengthened. Above all, it should be enforced.


Published in August/September Newsletter 2010