Earth Matters: What’s Really Been Happening with Landscaping on the Piermont Pier? 

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by Marthe Schulwolf

After a mention in a recent Earth Matters column (“Opting for Organic Landscaping in Rockland County”), people asked, “What really happened at Piermont Landing?” The short version is that after 28 years without chemical landscaping, pesticides are now on the Piermont Pier.

Piermont Landing is the development that takes up much of “Piermont Pier” – the man-made foothills and former industrial estate that protrudes about a mile into the Hudson River and is surrounded by the river, Sparkill Creek, and Piermont Marsh. When Piermont fought on several fronts in 1985 to develop the pier in such a way that both the character of the village and its economy were preserved, the village council officially designated it as a “critical environmental zone”.

After several years of controversial village elections and environmental complaints, the current development was approved. The guarded residential area consists of 227 residential units (apartments and attached townhouses) organized into 4 subsections and an umbrella organization that controls all landscaping and is known as the Piermont Landing Homeowners’ Association (PLHOA).

When the first residents arrived in 1993, they learned that the sponsor, a daughter of a major bank, was planning an intensive chemistry program to maintain the landscape. The residents protested. There were only 2 applications this summer. In autumn, the sponsor assigned the topic to the residents, who opted for the ecological landscaping.

For 8 years, an organic landscaper – expertly and exclusively organic in his practice – looked after the property. In 2002, the PLHOA received the prestigious NYS Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention, based on all chemicals that Not applied in these years.

In 2001, a new CEO took over, whose son was a conventional landscape gardener. The organic landscaper was replaced by the president’s son, who was given a 3-year contract. After 2 years and a change of management, the son’s contract was terminated. The PLHOA then hired another conventional landscaper, with an informal agreement that he would not only avoid pesticides, but also learn biological methods. He should consult with the organic farm and acquire knowledge as well as comply with the written guidelines. These “specifications” called for soil examinations and natural fertilizers as well as the ban on synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge products and pesticides. The plan left out one crucial thing – oversight. Since this was not the case and based on information obtained by the landscaper himself, essential aspects of this plan were ignored. All we can say for sure is that no pesticides have been used for two decades – what some people call “organic through neglect”. Far from the same thing as an active organic program that focuses on healthy horticultural practices and positive soil improvement and is anchored in knowledge and experience.

Last autumn, a new PLHOA board decided not only to change landscape gardeners, but also to sign a contract for a typical conventional program of pre-planned pesticide applications to kill “weeds” (d). Residents were only told that there would be a new contractor and that they would be “more aggressive” (apparently a euphemism for toxic chemical applications).

As it turned out, the hired landscaper lacked all legal requirements to apply pesticides. NYS ECL (Environmental Conservation Law) requires commercial landscaping companies to have a pesticide business registration and at least one certified applicator on board. If you want to apply pesticides with restricted use – as opposed to products for general use – this applicator must have the higher qualification “Commercial Applicator” as opposed to the lower qualification “Technician”. The firm they hired, a New Jersey-based company, did not have these qualifications in either New York state or New Jersey. In the contract, the landscaper listed incorrect qualifications using an independent company’s New Jersey registration and certification numbers.

On April 13th, this landscaper applied a “weed and feed” product, a combination of synthetic fertilizer and herbicide, with the “active ingredient” dithiopyr – a product with restricted use in the state of New York, which is on Long Island due to its inclination It is forbidden to contaminate groundwater and its toxicity to aquatic organisms. DEC Enforcement came and charged the landscaper of a misdemeanor and multiple violations for which he was still on trial in Piermont Village Court.

Then on Friday evening, June 18, the same landscaper “secretly” exposed another pesticide. He sent an employee who had no ID and was wearing a backpack sprayer. After spraying mulch areas and gaps in sidewalks around some houses, the man was stopped by indignant residents and photographed in the landscaper’s truck while leaving the property. DEC will investigate and further charges may follow.

What he sprayed, he only said “fertilizante” (Spanish for fertilizer). But that was obviously a nonsensical answer. The logical assumption would be a herbicide, with Round-Up being the most likely culprit as it remains the most widely used herbicide in the United States despite massive lawsuits.

By the way, It is not uncommon for conventional landscapers to deliberately refer to applications as “fertilizers” in order to obscure the real nature of the chemicals they use.

You might conclude that this would give food for thought to the board. But you’d be wrong Instead, they have now hired, registered and certified another landscaper to apply an even more nasty range of chemicals.

Your new contract provides:

  • An application of Imidacloprid, a NEONICOTINOID insecticide. “Neonics”, as they are sometimes called, are highly toxic to aquatic organisms, penetrate local waters and are particularly controversial due to their toxicity for pollinators (Bees, birds, butterflies – all the living things without which plants would not reproduce and agriculture would collapse). The EU has banned Imidacloprid for outdoor use. Maine has also banned this, with a few exceptions. Other states have started to propose various types of bans. This product is said to be used to kill maggots. However, since it is applied across the board, it is reasonable to assume that no one has actually scouted the property to see if there are maggots that need to be killed. And even if there are, there are better ways to deal with grub problems.
  • Even more worrying are TWO applications in the fall of a cocktail of FOUR herbicides (never tested in combination), in spray form (probably inhaled). The first of these four ingredients is 2,4-D, one of the 2 active ingredients in AGENT ORANGE. 2,4-D is persistent, easily traced in homes, and absorbed from surfaces, and is strongly associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.

As Eliot Spitzer said when he was Attorney General for the NYS, “Pesticides pose a health risk even when used and applied in full compliance with manufacturer recommendations and regulatory requirements.” Hiring someone to apply pesticides for cosmetic purposes, even if done under the law, is still the wrong choice.

If you care about the environment at Piermont Pier, if you are concerned about unnecessary soil, air and water contamination from cosmetic pesticide use, visit our website at www.PiermontPierAlliance.org and sign our petition. For more information, please email PiermontPierAlliance@aol.com.

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Earth Matters is a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling, and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Julie Wendholt, Financial Advisor & Vice President of Pell Wealth Partners, a private wealth advisory firm of Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC.

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