August 27, 2010
GUELPH — The blackened vegetation along Guelph Junction Railway is evidence of a recent spraying operation that has sparked a neighbourhood campaign to end the use of chemical pesticides along its tracks.
The company is permitted such spraying because of federal regulations require vegetation control along railways. Several kilometers of track are within city limits.
Guelph artist and social activist Lynn Chidwick launched a campaign to end the railway’s chemical pesticide use. She did so after she and others the GJR’s most recent spraying, in early August, unfolded without many users of neighbouring properties knowing about it. A complaint about that is also before the GJR board of directors.
Chidwick said she polled about 100 residents around Dufferin Street and found that none had seen signage related to the spraying.
The railway is obligated to put up notifications at least one day prior to and a minimum of two days after an application of herbicides. Chidwick said small children play near the sprayed area, which is also frequented by hikers, cyclists and berry pickers.
“What got me is, there was a two-year-old playing in the grass right after it was sprayed, and the only reason the mom found out was because a neighbour ran out and said, ‘Get her out of there, they just sprayed,’” said Chidwick.
She expressed concerned over varied health risks associated with exposure to pesticides.
Now, she and other local citizens want to see GJR stop using chemical pesticides over these worries and because a section of the TransCanada Trail is being constructed near the tracks, meaning more pedestrian traffic near them.
Chidwick said trails along the tracks have been used by pedestrians for decades, and that is why the TransCanada Trail is going in that location. She also concerned about pesticides sprayed on the tracks entering the city’s ground water, she added.
“We want to stop the use of pesticides on the tracks all together,” Chidwick said, “and use alternative means for vegetation control and fire safety.”
Tom Sagaskie, general manager of GJR, said a complaint about the spraying was raised with the railway’s board, but he declined to comment further when asked whether enough notification of the spraying had been happened.
He said residents also have concerns about general maintenance of the tracks, weeds, and illegal dumping. For its part, the railway is concerned about the amount of trespassing on its property, he added.
“Citizens have a number of issues they want addressed,” he said “We are going to put them directly in touch with the chairman of the board so their concerns can be vented, be heard, be dealt with.”
Chidwick said residents are concerned about the lack of upkeep on the tracks, particularly piles of dried shrubbery along them. She referred to them as fire hazards.
Ward 2 Coun. Ian Findlay said the issue of spraying is foremost on minds of local residents, and the area of the railroad between Eramosa Road and Speedvale Avenue is the primary area of concern.
The fact that the section of the TransCanada Trail is going in close to the tracks is central to the debate over continued pesticide use, he explained.
The railway corridor, he said, was exempt from the city’s pesticide ban, and the provincial ban extended that exemption.
“The railway is governed by Transport Canada, so they have to abide by rules established by Transport Canada,” Findlay said. “They are fairly restrictive in terms of track maintenance.”
Those rules restrict things such as plants growing between the tracks or trees growing near the tracks due to the risk of fires sparked by the contact of train wheels and rails.
“What the practice has been with Guelph Junction Railway is to spray the area and kill all the weeds with pesticide,” Findlay said.
Findlay said he plans to attend the next GJR board meeting to discuss the issue.
There may be alternatives to pesticides, he said, adding that weed control has been successful on local sports fields without pesticides.
Findlay and his Ward 2 council cohort Vicki Beard are planning a town hall meeting for the second week of September to bring residents together to hear their concerns. The time and place of the meeting will be posted on Findlay’s Ward 2 blog at http://ward2guelph.wordpress.com/. Chidwick said residents are pleased that the councilors are taking the initiative on the issue.