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How One Subdivision Stopped Spraying Roundup on the Roads

Kapoho Beach Lots on the Big Island had seven miles of private roads, paved with Chip & Seal. For decades, the Road Board believed they needed to spray the edge of all the roadsides with Roundup to keep weeds from growing into the road and cracking it. This included large bushy plants such as cane or guinea grass in jungle-facing areas, and small common weeds in front of people's homes.

Despite many people in the subdivision getting sick from the spraying (migraines, asthma, and other acute symptoms), the Road Board said they had no other option; everything but Roundup would cost too much!

But once news came out that Roundup possibly caused cancer a few years ago, and several people in our subdivision had cancer, or their dogs had died from tumors (dogs lick the grass on the roadside when they go for their walks) -- everyone at the subdivision's annual meeting voted for a moratorium on using Roundup on the roads.

We put in an order for an organic weed killer whose active ingredient was citrus oil. Because the orange crop had failed in South America that year, there was a long backorder on receiving our weedkiller of choice.

So, the road crew just mowed, weed whacked, and used a backhoe to push back the jungle, ripping out the huge stalks of cane grass by the roots and donating all the green waste to the county compost pile.

After 9 months of absolutely no spraying of anything on the roads, the Director of the Road Board and I drove along the 7 miles of roadsides to admire the brilliant green grass where everyone was now enjoying morning and late afternoon walks with their children and dogs. And also to see where there were any weeds encroaching on the Chip & Seal and causing a problem.

We determined that on only 15% of the roadsides did the weeds need to be treated and marked them on the subdivision map. Those who wanted to care for their road frontage themselves, put up NO SPRAY signs (we bought them in bulk from a sign store in Hilo) and either pulled the weeds, used flame weeders, steam weeders, or poured salt or white household vinegar on their weeds.

The road crew found that they could also use plain white vinegar in those places not groomed by homeowners. It needs to be used more frequently (once a month) vs. once every three months for a commercial, organic weed killer like Avenger Optima, but it did the job quite cheaply (less than $3/gallon for the vinegar).

At the last annual meeting before lava overtook our subdivision, the Board Secretary reported that the budget for roadside weed management had gone down by 75% and they thanked those who had pushed against Roundup use for so many years.

It was an accident that Kapoho just let the roadsides all go green with simple mechanical maintenance -- but it very importantly showed that broadcast spraying is totally unnecessary. Perhaps our counties' and state workers could also be more judicious where they spray anything, whether glyphosate-based herbicides or organic ones.

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