The Whidbey/Camano Island No-Spray Coalition: Putting Our Health First

Whidbey/Camano Island No-Spray Coalition (WINS) was founded in 2001 as a result of cross-seeding from several South Whidbey activist organizations. All of us, including environmentalists and the chemically injured, wanted to eliminate roadside spraying in the county. This issue had been vigorously battled in the 1980s and 90s by the feisty, knowledgeable Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN). It seemed timely to reengage the issue, emphasizing informed discussion and respectful listening with all parties and authorities. This has been a trademark of the organization, and has been one key to WINS’ effectiveness in getting forward movement on entrenched issues. Other keys have been widespread public support and the persistent work of a committed core group.

Momentum grew in 2002 as WINS received a generous grant from Camano philanthropist-activists Melinda and David Gladstone. WTC’s Erika Schreder and WEAN contributed strategic and scientific expertise. More than 2,400 petition signatures against state and county roadside spray gave weight to WINS lobbying and engaged the community. Citizen letter writing and testimony at commission meetings abounded. WINS’ other tools included targeted packets of information, informative public videos, postering public places, and lobbying officials. Letters and e-mails sent to the local paper and county commissioners and several newspaper articles bolstered WINS’ position. Calculating Island County’s higher per-mile costs for toxic roadside vegetation management compared to other no-spray counties’ lower costs helped persuade the county that no-spray might be possible. 

In April of 2002, before a packed courthouse, the county commissioners voted unanimously to support a no-spray policy for county roads, noting that this issue had received the largest support of any in their experience. Now, in 2005, WINS is engaging the county in discussions to expand and sharpen its vegetation management methods.

Following this victory, WINS worked with the South Whidbey District School Board on its pesticide use. Helped by Angela Storey of WTC, WINS again mounted a multifaceted campaign. In August 2002 the school board adopted an Integrated Pest Management Policy. WINS also persuaded South Whidbey State Parks, Port District Parks, and Island County Parks to go no-spray. WINS also organized a free workshop on IPM for the county and district staff members. 

Soon after the county victory, WINS was approached by a Clallam County no-spray group. As Clallam County hadn’t sprayed their roadsides for many years, this citizen group had built landslide local support for a campaign calling on the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to end state roadside spraying in counties that don’t spray. With the efforts of Whidbey activist Theresa Gandhi, WINS kicked into high gear. WINS, WTC, and Clallam No-Spray Coalition met with Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald, and WINS began approaching legislators, building expertise on highway vegetation control, collaborating with newspaper reporters, and generating grassroots support. WEAN gave some punch to the effort by shining the spotlight on a little-known 1992 spray-reduction regulation pertaining to WSDOT. 

WINS’ efforts culminated in drawing a huge crowd to a WSDOT open house where WSDOT administrators (and reporters) heard hours of impassioned advocacy from concerned Whidbey and Camano citizens. WINS’ actions resulted in 18 miles of no-spray on highway road edges in the county, overall reductions in pesticide use, test areas for alternatives, and a vegetation management plan that is being exported to other counties. WSDOT subsequently funded an academic study to summarize alternative vegetation management methods for road edges, the results of which will be used to design several experiments. WINS continues to monitor the implementation of WSDOT’s plans and to call for continued herbicide reductions. 

A major lesson learned through all of this has been that while dramatic victories are energizing, the follow-through is what’s essential. Implementation may be less spectacular, but is perhaps what will enable these gains to endure and expand to greater toxic reductions elsewhere.

This article was a joint effort of the WINS Board, first published in Alternatives, Fall 2005.