Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Habitat nixed

Laredo Morning Times
April 7, 2009
by Zach Lindsey

Laredo City Council closed the door Monday night to aerial spraying of carrizo with Habitat by U.S. Border Patrol, and went a step further, with a motion that forbids the herbicide's use all together in the 1.1-mile experimental area Border Patrol requested.

Regarding aerial spraying, the council approved an easement for Border Patrol to experiment with methods of carrizo eradication along the U.S. bank of the Rio Grande on March 16.

The motion sparked an outcry among a public that fears the herbicide Border Patrol intends to use, Habitat, could contaminate the river.One of the most vocal advocates against aerial spraying was the government of Nuevo Laredo.

"We're comfortable with (aerial spraying), but the Mexican government is not comfortable with it," said Councilman Hector "Tito" Garcia."I do not recommend that we go further with this until both governments come to an agreement with everything."

The key to the issue in the eyes of the council was the support of the Mexican side.Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramon Garza-Barrios attended the meeting, speaking in favor of mechanically removing the cane but asking for denial of aerial spraying.

Garza-Barrios reminded the council of who owns the river.

"It's not the property of North Americans," Garza-Barrios said.

"It's not the property of Mexicans."

The Mexican government's opinion on the safety of imazapyr differs from the American government's.Because of the proximity to Nuevo Laredo's water treatment plant, Garza-Barrios asked for an alternative that has no chance of putting people's health in danger.

"It is safe if it is used 100 percent in accordance with the instructions on the label," Landeck said."If you do not use it the way the label prescribes, it becomes dangerous."

Eric Webb, a scientist working with Border Patrol, compared the herbicide to a hammer.

Any tool misused can become dangerous.But the people who would apply it would be required to have a license.

Landeck brought up health concerns."The risks you're listing have to do with the chemical in its full concentration, not in its applied concentration," Webb responded.

Although imazapyr itself can cause health consequences, Habitat, the chemical compound Border Patrol wants to use, is not significantly dangerous, according to Webb."You can be 100 percent sure that it doesn't prove any health or human safety risk," Webb said."You can purchase these products in your big box store.Citizens use them regularly, and the Border Patrol intends to use the same products."

However, Border Patrol had already taken aerial spraying off the table.

Valdez noted this change of position, and asked why."The aerial spraying was removed because it was a way to move forward that everyone supported," said Border Patrol agent Rosendo Hinojosa.It was not because of any health hazards from aerial spraying, according to Hinojosa.

City Council asked Hinojosa if the project could go on without the use of Habitat."There is no project without the application of a chemical," Hinojosa said."It wouldn't be effective.It would be a waste of our tax dollars, from a federal government perspective, without the application of some chemical.

"Most of the U.S. citizens and organizations that have opposed aerial spraying do not oppose some form of responsible use of herbicide."

The Rio Grande International Study Center (is) not opposed to the application of herbicide, specifically the paint method," said RGISC Executive Director Jay Johnson-Castro."The mechanical method would cause tremendous erosion and the carrizo would come back.

"The easement is for a 1.1-mile stretch of the coast of the river.Border Patrol intends to use this area as an experimental zone.Whichever method proved most effective for removal might then be applied to a 16-mile stretch.

"The decision was made because of concerns in the local community, whether correct or incorrect, that's not the issue here," Valdez said."There were concerns, and the decision was made to remove that (aerial spraying) because that was the most contentious issue.


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