Big Toy pesticide concerns muted

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Some concerns have been expressed about pesticides sprayed on trees in the orchards around the Big Toy site at Keizer Rapids Park, but the project is still taking place next week. (KEIZERTIMES file/Craig Murphy)

Some concerns have been expressed about pesticides sprayed on trees in the orchards around the Big Toy site at Keizer Rapids Park, but the project is still taking place next week. (KEIZERTIMES file/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

When the orchard site was discussed as a possible location for the Big Toy play structure last year, most of the concern was the timing of getting the land within city limits.

A less verbalized concern was the spraying of pesticides in the orchards where the filberts are harvested and the potential impact that would have on the health of those using the play structure.

The Big Toy is being constructed by an army of volunteers starting next Wednesday, June 10. The five-day build is expected to conclude with a soft opening of the play structure at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 14.

For the most part, concerns of the pesticides are muted.

Not entirely, however.

In March 2012, Tony Weathers with Willamette Mission Farm, Inc. entered into a five-year contract with the city of Keizer to lease the filbert orchards for $10,000 a year. Weathers keeps all the profit he makes by harvesting the filberts.

As part of the harvesting, Weathers sprays pesticides on the orchards three times a year.

Since the Big Toy is being built in part of the orchards used for farming, a concern has been expressed about the possibility of those pesticides spreading to the play structure.

The person apparently most concerned? Weathers. But despite repeated messages, Weathers only briefly talked to the Keizertimes last week about what his concerns are.

“My concern is my ass being sued,” Weathers said before heading into a meeting. “My concern is someone using the toy when the park is closed, get flu and found out I sprayed. I have too much to lose. I informed the city I would like to get out of the lease.”

City attorney Shannon Johnson avoided questions of whether Weathers would be able to get out of the lease, or if he’s already been released from the lease.

Others aren’t as concerned.

Bill Lawyer, Public Works director for Keizer, showed the Keizertimes a June 2010 environmental site assessment report from BB&A Environmental that focused on conditions of the 28 acre property before it was purchased by the city. Samples were collected on May 21, 2010 and analyzed for any recognized environmental conditions (REC).

“It did not identify any obvious contamination,” Lawyer said.

The analysis looked primarily at how much DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), DDE (dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) and DDD (dichlorodiphenyldichloroethane) were in the soil.

Small amounts of each were found in three of the four sections, but all well below Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) standards. One area, the west portion, was labeled as non-detected. That’s the area where the Big Toy is being built.

Lawyer believes it’s safe to conclude there are no safety concerns at the Big Toy site due to pesticides. He points to another reason why Weathers wants out of the lease.

“It is the fear of a litigious society,” Lawyer said. “It’s the fear of being sued when you’re doing nothing wrong. The Big Toy area is shown as non-detected for all the particles.”

The issue of pesticides in relation to the Big Toy site was brought up a couple of times last year. For example, last spring Jim Taylor addressed the topic.

“When (Weathers) sprays, he would let us know,” the former councilor said at the time. “We would just close it for a couple of hours. We would do it early in the morning so it won’t be an issue. I’ve never heard of complaints about spraying by the house out there. It’s not an issue.”

Richard Walsh, who lives right by the orchard, mentioned the topic at a meeting last fall.

“No one has spent more hours in the orchard area than I have,” Walsh said at a Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting. “I haven’t seen it be a problem. I’ve been out there most every night the last couple of years. The play structure will probably be closed the days they do the spraying.”

Mark Caillier, general coordinator for the Big Toy project, said there will be a 40-foot buffer around the play structure and a sprinkler system in the center of the toy just for that reason.

“We did include the sprinkler system to wash away any fungicides,” Caillier said. “If they need to close the toy for a couple of days (at spraying time), they will do that. But once the stuff dries, from what I’ve been told it’s not going anywhere.”

For Caillier and other project leaders, the bigger concern has been getting enough people signed up for the five days of building. Volunteers can sign up at www.keizerbigtoy.org or they can show up between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. during any of the five days (see related story, pg. A2).

“We still need volunteers, especially for Wednesday through Friday,” Caillier said. “That really sets the tone for the last two days. There will be a lot of staining, painting, priming and clearcoating to do. We’ll get a lot of the material prep work done in the early days. It’s an assembly line manufacturing environment. Each group of three volunteers will have their parts to put together. We will have three shifts. People can come anytime they want.”

Three semi trucks of material were delivered to the site on Monday, with 52 saw horses made last Saturday to help the process. A parking area will be clearly marked along the Walsh Way entrance to the park, the road that leads to the boat ramp.

Caillier echoed Ron and Kim Freeman, who are in charge of volunteers, in predicting many people will simply show up without signing up in advance.

“The term used for that is spontaneous volunteerism, where people just show up and volunteer,” Caillier said. “That has been the trend in volunteer projects. We’ve seen it in Claggett Creek Watershed projects.”

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