Not long ago, a few people in Belfast got word that the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation had proposed a plan to spray an unidentified herbicide on the cracks between paving stones on a certain pathway upon what is known as “The Commons.”
The Commons is a beautiful, open, public area encompassing a grassy knoll that flows across a small plateau and then cascades down over a steep hill, across a road and onto another level, open space before meeting up with the Belfast Harbor Walk Trail and beautiful Belfast Bay. Belfast Bay forms where the Passagassawakeag River meets Penobscot Bay, an estuary of incredible importance, not just ecologically, but economically as well.
The past several decades have seen a lot of changes in Belfast, one of which is the city’s growing reputation as a place of diversity and progress, a place of successful small businesses and environmental respect and justice. People are drawn to Belfast for all of these reasons and more. So the idea that herbicides would be sprayed on The Commons, a public space that drains directly into the harbor, and that is used by children, families, and pets, certainly raised red flags for many citizens of this great little city.
Members of the Garden Club, faith community, small businesses, and individuals mobilized to ensure the city council understood that the citizens of Belfast have come to rely upon the unwritten policy that herbicides will not be used on public spaces in town. They also conducted research and interviews with farming and pest management experts to find alternative solutions and presented these to the council and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The city council heard the message. To their credit, several council members were very reluctant to authorize the spraying in the first place.
On February 2, 2016, the council voted to approve an alternative solution. Many of the councilors spoke eloquently about the dangers of pesticides and herbicides. Importantly, one spoke of the danger of having Belfast’s policy remain “unwritten” or “understood.”
“This is a problem that’s not going to go away,” said Councilor Michael Hurley, noting that the solution the council ultimately approved for the small section of pathway on The Commons simply won’t work in most cases where a large area is concerned.
Ultimately, the citizens of Belfast, visitors who frequent the city and became concerned about this issue, and members of the council made the right decision and chose to alleviate a weed problem using a non-toxic method, protecting people of all ages, pets, and the important estuary from chemicals specifically designed to kill things.
The City of Belfast, and especially its active citizenry and thoughtful council, should be commended for their actions.
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