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Pesticide use concerns arise in Whitefish Bay

June 11, 2014

Whitefish Bay — An application of pesticides on local sports fields has provoked concern from a group of Whitefish Bay parents.

The village sent an online notification to residents on June 4 that "Momentum" herbicide would be applied on Saturday morning to the Lydell Community Center football field, and in spot applications to the Armory practice field.

Also, on Sunday, less than three ounces of Momentum were applied to the Cahill baseball field. Signs were put up on the field to notify residents of the pesticide application, but some of those signs were taken down before the 72-hour notification period had expired.

In response to the spraying, a Facebook page called Safe Playing Fields for Whitefish Bay Children has been created. So far, the group has 73 members.

'Always a push and pull'

Shawn Yde, the school district's business manager, said Whitefish Bay's athletic fields are uniquely challenged by a limited amount of green space being overused by a large number of recreational activities. Weeds are symptomatic of overly-compacted soil, Yde said, and those weeds need to be killed to allow new grass to grow.

The use of chemicals for weed control has been avoided in these fields for seven years, through aeration and other natural methods. The middle of Armory Field and the south end of Lydell Field have become overrun by weeds, Yde said, so an application had to be done in a timely manner to grow grass before the start of soccer and football season in August.

"It's always this push and pull," Yde said. "You want to provide athletics and recreational activities but you need to have them in safe, playable condition. It's really hard to manage heavily worn fields if you can't rest them."

The pesticide application comes less than a week after the village board's approval of a turf maintenance plan. The plan allows spot pesticide applications at the recently treated fields, with the caveat that the school board's integrated pest management protocol be followed.

Amy Joyce, who has been actively involved in the pesticide debate in Whitefish Bay through the Healthy Communities Project organization, said the district did not meet those standards. Joyce said the school board or an oversight committee should be required to authorize any potential pesticide applications in the village.

"That sort of decision making shouldn't be made by one person, and it shouldn't be so subjective," she said.

There were no scheduled weekend activities at any of the treated fields, but there could have been other groups that used the fields. Joyce said pesticide applications almost always result in some type of exposure to children.

"We're playing Russian roulette with our children's health," she said. "We're hoping that nothing happens down the line and that these exposures will not play a role in a later onset of disease."

Village turf plan approved

The turf management plan approved by trustees last week was developed by an ad-hoc pesticide committee made up of members from the Whitefish Bay Garden Club, Healthy Communities Project, athletic clubs, school district and a member of village staff.

As part of the village's turf management plan, no pesticides will be sprayed in Klode Park. The park will be aerated and over-seeded in the spring and fall, fertilized with Milorganite in June and September and treated with a gypsum compost application in the fall.

School House Park and Buckley Park will be aerated and over-seeded twice a year with no pesticide applications. Craig Counsell Park will be maintained by Whitefish Bay Little League, who will follow their three-year natural turf care plan with a reserve clause for spot spraying applications. No herbicides or pesticides will be used in the playground areas at Cahill or Klode Park.

Round-up will be used on most concrete medians on an as-needed basis, but not within 24 hours of a predicted rainfall. Two medians on Lake Drive will be treated with an alternate product. No pesticides will be applied to boulevard medians near Cumberland Elementary, Richards Elementary, Santa Monica School, or on Lexington Boulevard from Lake Drive to Marlborough Drive, or Cumberland Boulevard from Hampton Road to Oakland Avenue. "Weed and feed" will be used on the rest of the village-owned green spaces.

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