Going for Goats? Leesburg Council to End Use of Herbicide

Concerns about the use of a potentially dangerous herbicide to clear vegetation from several town water channels have been raised for years, but the Leesburg Town Council this week is putting an end to the practice. The alternatives will be expensive and, perhaps, creative.

In recent years, a town contractor has used Aquaneat, an aquatic herbicide containing glyphosate, to control vegetation growth along streambank floodways. While widely used by municipalities as a highly effective—and cost effective—weed killer, growing concerns about the potential cancer-causing effects of glyphosate have triggered a push to stop use of the product.

The town’s Environmental Advisory Committee started raising the concerns about the practice more than five years ago, but its latest push has the council’s attention.

During their work session Monday night, council members unanimously agreed that the town should stop using the chemical. That quashed the planned June application at three town water channels, which was anticipated to cost $14,400.

However, the town still needs to keep the channels clear. For a section of Town Branch between Dry Mill Road and South King Street, the vegetation control is a FEMA mandate. Overall, the work covers about 3.5 acres.

During Monday’s briefing, Director of Public Works and Capital Projects Renée M. LaFollette said she doesn’t have the staff to manually cut back the weeds and, even if she did, the rocky terrain leads to too many work injuries, putting the department in a tighter bind. Hiring a contractor to trim the vegetation is expected to cost $42,785 annually. Switching to an organic weed killer is expected to cost more than $95,000 because of its limited effectiveness and requirement of more frequent applications.

For the Town Branch section, residents of the nearby townhouses on Carriage Way, who also raised concerns about use of the herbicide, have suggested they could pick up the work on a volunteer basis. That’s not an option staff is recommending.

The alternative that generated the most interest in the council’s debate was a surprising one. According to the staff report, it would cost only $30,000 annually to deploy herds of goats to chomp up the problem.

Public Works Manager Charles A. Mumaw said that he has come around to the concept. “A year ago, I was the first person who said absolutely not,” he told the council.

While the cost of the vegetation control will at least double as a result of the council’s decision, members said use of the chemical was a valid public safety concern.

“We can always deal with the dollars. We can’t replace lives,” Councilman Ron Campbell said.

And the longer the conversation continued, the more council members lined behind the goat option.

“My vote would be goats,” said Council member Susanne Fox. Even Vice Mayor Marty Martinez, watching the meeting online while on a trip to Arizona, texted his support for the goat option.

Under that plan, a contractor would bring in a small herd of goats that would be fenced in an area of the stream bank. They would pretty much eat everything in their pen, starting with their favorites, such as poison ivy and poison oak, and then chewing up the rest. After their work is done, the fence would be moved to another area of the stream bank. Depending on the weather, the goats would be put to work two or three times a year.

Will there be goats? In the end, that decision will be left to Town Manager Kaj Dentler and his staff. He said they’ll continue to evaluate the contractor options and that the goat herd may be best if first used as a test case.

5 thoughts on “Going for Goats? Leesburg Council to End Use of Herbicide

  • 2019-04-23 at 3:28 pm
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    Poor things could get loose and struck by a car. Baaaaa-d idea

  • 2019-04-23 at 3:37 pm
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    While grazing goats in the stream channel sounds cool and eco-friendly, one of the big pushes in the Chesapeake Bay clean up has been efforts to provide funding to farmers to fence their livestock out of streams, ponds and wetlands, install alternative watering systems, and to provide a buffer from areas they graze to filter the nutrients and bacteria from their manure before it gets to surface water, which are one of the issues with our local streams and the Bay’s health. In this case it sounds as though we would be doing the exact opposite of that and fencing livestock in the stream channel and all of their waste would be almost directly deposited into the stream. Goats can be great environmentally friendly brush control, but using them in a confined area in a stream channel is definitely not the best environmental practice.

  • 2019-04-23 at 5:29 pm
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    The problem goes back to the fact of clearing out trees and other natural vegetation and planting rocks, If it is a requirement to re-arrange the banks in such a way, why wouldn’t you plan accordingly so the banks can either be maintained easily, or not grow anything to start with (a Gunite or concrete bank wall for example). But that would actually require fore thought and actual planning, instead of the preference to turn natural flood plains into residential and commercial properties…

  • 2019-04-23 at 7:20 pm
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    We’ve been using Goats at the Belmont HOA for years. We have a contractor who supplies the goats for one week a year and we rotate them through our tree save areas to clear the noxious weeds. The contractor does do some follow up work since the goats don’t eat everything. It works very well, is cost effective and avoids using herbicides. Articles on this previously in the Washington Post and Loudoun Times Mirror. Should have the Loudoun Now folks out for our next visit in June. David Mowbray.

  • 2019-04-24 at 8:42 am
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    I complement both the council and this paper for surfacing the dangers of glyphosate. Imagine an absurd world where our government (FDA and EPA) actually allows residual levels of glyphosate to be in our food at the request of Monsanto. Now imagine that none of the published studies used by the EPA to make this decision independently reviewed the aggregate impact on humans knowing that many foods are being ingested each with the maximum glyphosate residual amount. (Just Google “FDA, EPA Glyphosate residual approval” to verify this is the case AND nothing is scheduled at the FDA or EPA to stop this). Our grocery store managers know this as well as chicken have antibiotics without notice. Where is the glyphosate free section?

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