Bernalillo County adds park staff as glyphosate phased out

Bernalillo County parks officials have said halting the use of glyphosate will significantly increase the amount of manual labor required to control weeds in parks and open spaces.

Anthony Torres of the Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation Department uses a trimmer to control weeds at Shadyside Park in the South Valley on April 23, 2019. The County Commission has approved a resolution to abandon the use of the chemical glyphosate in weed control. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)
Anthony Torres of the Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation Department uses a trimmer to control weeds at Shadyside Park in the South Valley on April 23, 2019. The County Commission has approved a resolution to abandon the use of the chemical glyphosate in weed control. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Now, they will get some extra hands to help.

The County Commission on Tuesday approved 15 new full-time employees for the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department’s land management division. The move comes one month after the commission voted to ban the use of glyphosate – the weed-killing chemical in Roundup – on county properties by next year.

Roundup’s safety has been at the heart of thousands of lawsuits, and a California jury earlier this month awarded $2 billion in damages to a couple who claimed the weed killer caused their cancers. That followed two other high-dollar verdicts against Roundup’s maker, Monsanto.

The company contends the product is safe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a statement last month saying that glyphosate is not carcinogenic and that the agency “continues to find there are no risks to public health” when used according to label specifications. But many critics point to a 2015 report by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer that said glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The county’s new parks positions will help the department with “projected institutional and procedural changes” associated with the ban, according to county documents. They include 13 park maintenance workers, one mechanic and one administrative officer. The salary and benefits will cost $632,888 for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and $731,939 in ensuing years, according to a county financial analysis.

The county had already appropriated about $1.1 million for glyphosate alternatives as part of the fiscal year 2020 budget vote earlier this year.

Debbie Jo Almager, parks director, said the positions would serve the department beyond the glyphosate phaseout.

“It will assist in many ways other than weed eradication – also picking up syringes from the parks (and) anything else we have, like trash, other items,” Almager told the commission.

The workers would join 40 existing maintenance employees.

While commissioners unanimously approved the additional staff, a few questioned why the department did not have another herbicide option. Almager said her staff is looking into replacements, but the county is limited to products that the state has already approved for use.

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said she trusted the county is “smart enough” to find a way to fill the glyphosate void.

“We had this particular herbicide and it’s very convenient to use … and we got used to it,” she said. “But now it’s considered a danger, so we have to shift the way we operate.”

The county has 123 parks and open space properties totaling 2,209 acres.

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