The Walker County Commission heard a representative from the Sipsey Heritage Commission complain about spraying on county roadsides, as she said leaving the roadside natural would be better for tourism and health needs.
District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt was seen meeting with about half a dozen people on the issue after the meeting. He said later that he would end spraying for those neighbors as a result.
Martha Salomaa of the Sipsey Heritage Commission talked about herbicides sprayed on the sides of the road during the public comment section for citizens at the start of the meeting.
She gave out handouts to commissioners with statistics to make the argument that Walker County had some of the highest cancer rates in the nation. "Neurological disorders are also very, very high," she said. "Some of the chemicals being used are related to that."
Salomaa quoted the Alabama Department of Transportation as saying roadsides are important in influencing a traveler's perception of the state.
"Clearly, right now, our roadsides are not aesthetically pleasing," she said. "I realize a lot has been done to improve them. I'm not discounting that. We have very beautiful countryside but it is very hard to see that. Because of the amount of pesticide being used, we have a lot of trees and stuff like that dying."
She said the group is particularly concerns about the Forks of the River in Sipsey in the Coon Creek area. "It is married by the site of the dead foliage and the dead trees that surround the bridges and the roadside. It can be quaint. It could be rustic and aesthetically pleasing. It is once a person is off the roadway, but the roadside is in such a state that it discourages rather than encourages travel."
Salomaa said people need to be on the river, bringing in people to spend money, and people need to be healthier. "But people don't want to kayak or fish where the vegetation is dead next to the water," she said.
She noted the county's tight finances, and has understood officials feel poisoning is more inexpensive. However, she proposes it would be better to attract visitors "with natural beauty, instead of making the area uglier." She cited on Minnesota study indicated that natural looking roadsides reduce driver stress and crime, as well as improve sales and property value.
"We're urging you to consider other ways to control the right of way," she said.
Aderholt said during his public comment time that he disagreed that the roadsides are not looking good, adding it takes several years to improve the look. Aderholt noted he had only received three complaints on spraying in three years.
The schedule calls for spraying an application once every three years, he said.
"It eventually works that right of way back to the point we don't have to cut it hardly ever," he said, saying he has know where the county still didn't have to spray again after three years. Green vegetation will fill back in during the spring, but further back from the road.
"Again, the amount of money we save by doing that — I could maintain $200,000 worth of equipment in tractors and we could cut six times a year, and it would cost an additional $130,000 to $150,000 a year to cut grass for four months out of the year," Aderholt said, noting the limited funds.
He noted a point made by District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis at one point in the meeting that the coal severance tax revenue was down to about $60,000 a year.
However, Aderholt, who has an ownership in a urgent care clinic, said he does understand that the county "has a problem" in its health rating.
"We also have more people in Walker County on disability per capita in the county than anybody in the state, and the state leads the nation," he said. "Walker County leads in a lot of negatives that we are trying to reverse and change, but I just can't attribute that to a herbicide program that we started three years ago."
He said if the residents don't want to be sprayed around their area, he did not have a problem with avoiding that area. "That is a simple fix to the whole problem," Aderholt said.