Controversial aerial pesticide spraying regulations that caught the interest of state lawmakers last session will go into effect Nov. 30 over the protests of environmentalists.
The new regulations put into writing existing permitting procedures and requirements. They establish a 35-foot "pesticide-free zone" around water bodies. The buffer zone within which pesticide spraying is prohibited would be greater than 35 feet. It would be determined in such a way that the pesticide would not drift or leach into land 35 feet around the water.
The state maintains it is protecting the environment and providing a tool to combat diseases and blights that could plague Alaska forests. Environmentalists are concerned the regulations don't provide an adequate buffer, pointing out that pesticides have been known to drift for miles.
"These are pesticides that are known to cause serious health effects," said Michelle Wilson, program coordinator for Alaska Community Action on Toxics. "Drift will definitely move across the land. We think 35 feet is clearly not enough."
The proposed regulations caused an uproar last spring when the state Department of Environmental Conservation refused to hold public hearings on them. A few state lawmakers, mostly Democrats, held their own hearing on the issue in April.
Kristin Ryan, director of DEC's environmental health division, said the final regulations take into account some concerns the agency heard during the public comment period.
The draft regulations allowed permittees who wanted to renew their permits to spray again to bypass the public comment process the second time. But the agency changed that, and the final regulations require public notice for every pesticide application, Ryan said.
The final regulations also require applicants to include information about precipitation in an area, and to include maps that show any water bodies within 200 feet of the application area, regardless of whether the water is on the applicant's property.
The agency has said aerial spraying has occurred only three times in Alaska: twice for a potato blight in the Mat-Su Valley, and once in Windy Bay to kill off alder trees and make way for "money trees."
Environmental groups also have taken exception with the regulations' stipulation of a 15-day period between public notice and public hearing. Ryan said that is the standard period for all procedures in the agency and the new regulations allow ample time for appeals.
"After we approve a permit, no spraying can occur for 40 days, giving people a chance to appeal the decision," Ryan said.