Airport herbicides spark investigation

MIDDLEBURY RESIDENT ROSS Conrad, left, peers down at his notes as he and other area residents air concerns about a Vermont Agency of Transportation request to again spray herbicides on part of the Middlebury State Airport property. Photo courtesy of Ross Conrad

MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Agency of Transportation will test soil and water at and near the fence line of Middlebury State Airport in response to concerns raised by area residents that the ongoing use of herbicides and/or pesticides in that area might be affecting wildlife — and possibly even the aquifer that supplies town water.

Ross Conrad and other area residents brought their concerns to the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) and Agency of Agriculture, Foods and Markets after VTrans last month applied for a state permit to apply the herbicides “Garlon 4 ULTRA, Garlon 3A, Oust Extra, Escort, Krenite S, Polaris, and Rodeo to control unwanted vegetation along all state highways and at state airports.”

“Residents along the rights-of-way (ROW) are encouraged to protect sensitive environments or water supplies within 100 feet of the ROW limits. Residents should notify VTrans of the existence of any water supplies within 100 feet of the state’s ROW,” the public notice signaling the potential spraying stated.

Conrad, among others, raised concerns about what he’s discerned as a reduction in fauna activity in the vicinity of the Middlebury State Airport. The state has sprayed herbicide at airport grounds for years.

“From what I can tell, the reason the frogs in the wetland area have been mostly killed off is because Oust and Export EP are added to the tank mix of Rodeo (glyphosate),” Conrad wrote in an email to Kanika Gandhi of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. “These two herbicides are not supposed to be used below the water line of wet areas, and the fence line was built within the water line of the wetland located in the north end of the airport.”

Conrad is particularly dialed in to the local environment, as he (and his bees) are the driving force behind Dancing Bee Gardens, which produces honey. Bees worldwide have been taking a hit due to such factors as more intensive agricultural practices, the use of pesticides and herbicides, and climate change.

State officials convened a community meeting at the airport fence line on Monday, May 17, to hear concerns.

According to a meeting summary issued by Gandhi and obtained by the Independent, the Agency of Ag — which is the permitting authority for the proposed herbicide use — will:

•  Test the soil areas around the fence line for active ingredients.

•  Sample water for herbicides at Beaver Brook at the North End of the airport and in the town’s water supply.

•  Schedule a follow-up virtual meeting or conference call to discuss progress on the issue.

Meanwhile, VTrans, according to Gandhi, has agreed to:

•  Investigate federal aviation guidelines to see what the exact requirements are for fence line areas and investigate alternatives to pesticide applications in those areas.

•  Coordinate a conversation with officials at the Middlebury Airport after internal discussion and investigation on the issue.

Phone messages and emails left for Gandhi and fellow Agency of Ag official Cary Giguere were not returned as the Independent went to press on Wednesday.

John Flowers is at

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