Low-flying copters spraying pesticidesSome Dickinson and Gladstone residents awoke this week to deep whirring sounds of helicopter blades
By: Lisa Call, The Dickinson Press
Some Dickinson and Gladstone residents awoke this week to deep whirring sounds of helicopter blades, to see a bright orange, red and yellow, low-flying mass emitting a sort of rain shower.
Contracted by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Dakota Helicopters, Inc. is conducting aerial herbicide sprays for noxious weeds such as leafy spurge and Canadian thistle through today, weather permitting.
Applying a mixture of chemicals 2,4-D and Picloram, sometimes sold as Tordon K, along with water, the mixture is applied at 7 gallons-per-acre intervals, said Shawn Morten, owner of Dakota Helicopters.
“It looks just like a rain shower and falls just like a rain shower,” Morten said.
Even though railroad sections run through Dickinson and Gladstone, no statute in North Dakota pesticide law, established by the Legislature, requires residents be notified prior to herbicide applications near or on railroads and right-of-ways, said North Dakota Department of Agriculture Pesticide Enforcement Coordinator Dave Phillips.
“If this was an application to a farm, forest, greenhouse or nursery, there are federal regulations that require an applicator give notice in advance of applications,” Phillips said.
While not common, complaints of non-notification have occurred, Phillips said.
“We are still in North Dakota, it could be a good neighbor thing, but it isn’t a requirement,” Phillips said.
To require notification would take an amendment to state herbicide laws, said Jim Gray, pesticide registration coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years now so I know what I can and cannot do,” Morten said. “The whole spraying system is designed to reduce drift significantly.”
Gus Melonas, spokesman for BNSF, said the railroad contracted Dakota Helicopters to spray along the railroad and yard tracks as well as the right-of-ways.
“They spray a 24-foot pattern from the center of the tracks, 12 feet out on each side,” Melonas said. “We use GPS to ensure applications within a 3-inch area. We meet all federal and state requirements.”
Melonas said wind speeds are checked every two hours by devices on the helicopter to ensure chemical drifting does not occur.
“Our policy is designed to ensure safety and provide the optimum environment for employees,” Melonas said.
Helicopters are not regulated when flying in the vicinity of towns and housing developments, Morten said.
“I always have a buffer zone in there, probably 500 feet or so,” he said.
Gray said application restrictions in proximity to residential areas is product specific.
Jaslyn Dobrahner, an Environmental Protection Agency environmental protection specialist, said the EPA turned enforcement of herbicide application laws over to North Dakota, provided chemicals being used are EPA approved.
With the area’s push on using more organic methods of eradicating noxious weeds, such as application of flea beetles, Melonas said BNSF would have its specialized team review official requests and provide studies.