Going Natural: Village Won't Use Pestcides in Parks

Village president voices concern as program will cost about $15,000 more than herbicide sprays.

The Whitefish Bay Village Board Monday approved a revised natural turf care program in village parks that will cost $18,382 - or about $15,000 more than spraying herbicides. 

The use of pesticides in public parks has been discussed at Village Hall for the past four years, culminating in 2010 with village residents protesting the use of pesticides in the parks before the village board. As a pilot program, the board agreed not to spray pesticides on and Parks last summer, and budgeted $20,000 this year for a pesticide-free turf care program.

The village's Environmental Advisory Commission recommended a comprehensive plan that includes aerating, spraying compost tea and adding nutrients to the soil in Buckley, Cahill, Klode and Schoolhouse parks, as well as to greenspace at Fairmount and Lydell. The carried a cost of $20,000.

The revised plan adopted Monday eliminates a pilot program to implement natural turf care practices in the median of Santa Monica Boulevard, cutting $1,605. Trustees also decided not to implement natural lawn care practices on triangular rights-of-way in the village.

If the village were to go back to a traditional turf maintenance plan, the village would spend around $3,500 to spray herbicides at all village properties.

In one motion, the board unanimously voted in support of the plan, but in a second motion, Village President Julie Siegel was the only board member to vote against funding the program.

In a later interview, Siegel said she supported part of the plan, but she did not want to fund the turf management aspects of the program that she disagreed with. Without funding, the village would not be able to implement aeration and other aspects of the plan, she said.

She voiced concerns about spending the extra money for natural turf care, citing e-mails she received from concerned residents.

‘We might be OK this year, but if you look at next year, we are losing a lot of money. Does it make sense to lose 20 grand this year if we’re not going to be funding it next year?” Siegel asked. “These are very tough decisions, and there are a lot of emotions involved, but $20,000 is a lot of money.”

Trustee James Roemer said there are residents on both sides of the issue that feel strongly about the pesticides issue.

“I think it’s prudent to go incrementally here,” Roemer said. “I would suggest a little moderation with how far we go with the program.”

Siegel's budget concerns reside, in large part, with state aid cuts. The village expects to face a $300,000 cut in state aid in 2012, with only roughly one-third of those revenue losses offset by savings through employee concessions on benefits.

Karlene Fox May 17, 2011 at 11:44 AM
Congratulations to our Village Board for making the decision to protect what is MOST important - the HEALTH of the people that enjoy our village parks. Karlene Fox
Nate Jamison May 17, 2011 at 05:26 PM
Wouldn' it be more accurate, rather than saying that this "plan" will cost $15,000 more, that it would cost FIVE TIMES AS MUCH!?!?! Are you kidding me? And who would be getting the money for the work? Right, the same person who came up with the plan (see http://whitefishbay.patch.com/articles/trustees-consider-pesticide-free-lawn-care). And do we really know that this "plan" is safer? What exactly would be in the "compost tea" and "added nutrients" that will be put down. Does it have feces or other nasty, unsafe stuff in it? Would anyone admit it if it did? Is that really safer than chemicals that get washed off the grass and into the ground the next time it rains?
ike May 17, 2011 at 05:59 PM
I agree, this plan sounds quite expensive. I'd like to know how it is being paid for. How do they plan for such a dramatic shift in budgetary funds? On the positive, it sounds like they are trying to re-energize the soil to promote growth over time and this will not be the annual expense. Also, as someone who brings his daughter to the park to play several times a week, I truly am excited that we don't need to avoid the grass because pesticides were just sprayed. Organic farming is making huge strides and becoming more popular as time goes on. The farmers are most interested in ways to protect their crops, while keeping them chemical free, obviously at the cheapest cost. Personally, I choose to buy organic produce and pay a little more because I like the idea of eating chemical-free produce. It'd be nice if I had research to back my opinion, but I'm not sure researching the long-term effects of pesticide treated foods vs. non-pesticides is possible? I would not mind paying a little more to support the village for attempting organic lawn care. However, there are many people that don't use the parks but want them to look nice and don't mind pesticide use. Why should they pay for this huge fee increase? On the same note, the idea of paying a park fee to enter our public parks doesn't sit well with me. Maybe those of us advocating for this change should be responsible for organizing a fundraiser? Maybe there are more cost-effective ways to accomplish this?
ike May 17, 2011 at 06:06 PM
Maybe a statement on the water bill giving people a chance to donate if interested? Maybe local stores/restaurants (Sendik's, Brueggers, Stone Creek, Starbucks, Breadsmith, etc) could collect money added to customers' bills like Sendik's is doing for Penfields right now? I don't know, just throwing things out because I appreciate the Village's effort but understand this is extremely costly.
Bob McBride May 17, 2011 at 11:49 PM
Goot points, Nate. I hope we're not just buying into this as being safe on someone's say-so (particularly if it's the person selling the service to the village).
Kevin Buckley May 18, 2011 at 03:31 AM
I'll chime in here, as I voted in favor of the plan. To answer the above question about where the money comes from, it comes from the portion of your property tax that goes to the village (about a quarter of your property taxes.) WFB has had a pilot Natural Lawn Care program for 4 previous summers at Schoolhouse Park, Buckley Park, and a few blocks of medians on Santa Monica. The program was monitored carefully, with weed counts performed every year. Generally speaking, after 4 years, the pilot areas were still full of weeds. I submit that this is less of a pesticide-free plan as it is a turf maintenance program. As a Village, WFB has both man-made and natural assets that we maintain. Just as we fill pot-holes and replace sewers, we maintain an urban forest, plant and trim trees and care for our parks. Our urban forest value is literally in the millions. Beyond mowing (and the former once/year weed & feed) we perform zero maintenance on our park green space. This will do some of the basics that most homeowners routinely do: aerate, seed, and fertilize, albeit the fertilizer is natural stuff, like corn gluten and Milorganite (possibly free from MMSD, actually.) The aeration part is particularly smart, in that besides improving lawn health, it softens the playing surface for all the soccer/baseball players, and increases the ability to absorb storm water. Sign me up for that. (continued)
Kevin Buckley May 18, 2011 at 03:31 AM
Finally, to put this $20k in perspective .. on an annual basis, we spend about $130k on mowing our 30 scattered acres and some flower beds .. $80,000 on cleaning our streets .. $300k on potholes, $200,000 on forestry services -- and this year, we'll spend an additional $224,000 on replacing ash trees in preparation for EAB. Those expenses aren't new. It's what it takes to run our village and maintain our public lands.
ike May 18, 2011 at 04:05 AM
Kevin - Thank you for answering the questions and not just ignoring them. It's nice to know that our voices are heard. You have to understand, when people see cost increases, their thoughts automatically go to, "How much more am I to pay for all of this." $20k doesn't seem like a lot compared to those other costs and sounds like it will fit into the budget fine. Before people get concerned about Milorganite coming from nutrients processed from sewage, here are some websites (one from Milorganite (the video is kind of cheesy) and one from an unbiased reporter, or so they seem) for more education... http://www.planetnatural.com/site/milorganite.html http://www.milorganite.com/home/ Sounds like we may notice a smell after application, but it goes away after a couple of days. I am not an expert by any means, but this stuff is supposed to be pretty beneficial to lawns. Besides, we may get it for free!!! I think it's great that WFB is acting on concerns about chemical pesticides. It's very forward thinking (I know you sucked on DDT WFBMike, but I really don't want my daughter to) and very attractive to future young homebuyers.
Melanie Ariens May 18, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Thanks for your clarifications and perspective, Kevin. The EAC's plan was designed within what the Village already had budgeted for turf care. No new funds were requested.
Tiredboys May 18, 2011 at 01:51 PM
WFB Mike....inhaled DDT....explains A LOT! lol!!! I'm sure my neighbors aren't super happy about our 'natural' looking lawn but I do feel better about it.
ike May 18, 2011 at 03:16 PM
Uhh... not sure why you had to throw in a comment about women and make-up, maybe its the DDT in your brain? There are probably other comparisons you could of made that wouldn't offend the women of WFB. Since the village is already promoting the use of fertilizer (Milogranite), your battle becomes easier.
ike May 19, 2011 at 12:40 AM
I'm not losing my mind, this comment was a reply to a comment that has since been deleted.


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