Led by Councilman Jay Sniatkowski and presentations by two Verona residents, the Town Council last night pressed Town Manager Joe Martin to stop using pesticides on playing fields in Verona.
The surprising move came after a presentation by Rose Saltalamacchia during the public comment portion of the meeting. Saltalamacchia, a Verona resident who studied environmental science in college, introduced the results of the petition circulated by the Verona Environmental Commission to end pesticide use. More than 200 residents signed the document, in person and online. The VEC had been working to bring attention to the dangers of pesticides since it was discovered in May that they were being on Linn Drive’s Veterans Field, the youth sports field controlled by the town. Pesticides were used again in September on Linn Drive, as well as on the fields at Verona High School and H.B. Whitehorne Middle School because the town and the school district partner on many maintenance issues.
When Saltalamacchia finished, the floor was turned back to the Council for response. Sniatkowski quickly put the issue on the front burner, noting that the Council meeting had opened with remarks about the safety of Verona children in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. He asked for Martin to commit to a test of organic field maintenance. “How can we talk about the safety of our children and not do this,” Sniatkowski said.
Sniatkowski asked if there were any reasons why a pilot program could not begin immediately and Martin said that there was no-long term contract for pesticides. (TruGreen was treating the Verona fields.) Sniatkowski’s call for a one-year test quickly morphed into a call by Councilman Michael Nochimson for a two- to three-year commitment, which was the recommendation of Michael Kolenut, an organic field maintenance expert who made a presentation to the Council earlier this year. Kolenut implemented the switch to pesticide-free fields at Bergen County Community College, including the heavily played ball field pictured above.
Sniatkowski took that ball and ran with it. “Can we agree that it is the general recommendation of the Council that we go in that direction?” he asked his fellow Council members.
Their assent was not a formal resolution, but Martin acknowledged its intent. He said that there would be no pesticide or fertilizer use on the fields in December, and that he would work out a plan for a test. “Hopefully, by February, we will be pesticide free,” Martin said.
Such a move would put Verona, which already does not use pesticides on the elementary school fields, squarely in line with what municipalities across the region are doing. In the second public presentation on pesticides, Verona High School student Gabrielle Discafani read a long list of towns that have gone pesticide free. No pesticides are used on West Orange fields, she noted, or in Verona Park.