I like to travel, and my favorite mode of travel is by car. Scenic drives are the best. A coastal highway hugging a cliff side, mirroring the undulations of the water below. Or a narrow twisting road, following an ancient American Indian trail across a dense forested mountain. But roads like this are a rarity. Most roads are not beautified through the benefit of geology. They are created, maintained and managed by teams of dedicated individuals.
The National Roadside Vegetation Management Association (NRVMA), in association with the Monsanto Co., honor those who strive to maintain and beautify roadsides, at NRVMA's annual conference. Last September the conference was held in Birmingham, Ala.
The awards honor the best state, county and municipal vegetation-control programs, and an individual who has contributed to such programs. Winners are picked based on the merits of safety, economics, aesthetics, environmental compatibility and innovative techniques of each program.
The winners this year are: Maine, best state; Jefferson County, Ala., best county; city of Portland, Ore., best city; and Rick Bayhi, local market manager, Monsanto Co., best individual contribution.
Maine has a long heritage in the area of roadside development and management. Clyde D. Walton, manager of landscape and environmental mitigation, Maine DOT (MDOT) referred to this heritage in his acceptance speech, for the excellence award at the NRVMA conference.
He went on to explain Maine's roadside spray program. An important aspect of this program is consensus building, which keeps pace with changing public policy and adapts to larger issues such as revenue distribution, environmental protection and social agendas.
"Maine operates a roadside spray program today largely because it recognized change and responded to it with innovation. These actions did not compound the cost of doing business. In fact, current program costs are nearly comparable to those in 1979, while maintaining the same service and quality levels," stated Walton.
These levels were attained through timely one-year spraying cycles, reduced rates of herbicide application, better spray applicator training, improved community relations and public outreach, and spray applicator health monitoring.
Recently a new challenge has been placed before the program. Maine has passed a new law that requires minimization of pesticide usage. MDOT is ready to face this challenge with technology based on sustainable legume and wildflower plantings in the safety clear zone. This will reduce mowing and herbicide use while improving erosion control.
Maintenance crews play an important role in Maine's award winning program. Walton explains, "Dedication of the crews is very important. For example the spray applicators have tremendous individual responsibilities. When doing selective spraying they have to decide which is a tree species versus what is a shrub and a wildflower, because we do not spray shrubs and wildflowers. They must be aware of the environmental buffer zones and deal head-on with public relations."
But the crews are not entirely on their own. They get support from MDOT in the form of training and monitoring programs.
The program proved its worth again this year with the devastating ice storms that hit Maine. Tree branches, coated with inches of ice, quickly broke and fell onto power lines and roads, where they impeded the work of the snow plows. The roads managed by MDOT did not experience as much of this problem, because of their roadside safety clear zones. "The branches fell into the safety clear zones, which meant that the snow plows could open the roads for emergency traffic. This allowed utility crews to get out to repair fallen power lines. Keeping the trees back from the roads helped to keep them open," states Walton.
MDOT plans to continue its award winning ways with plans for the future. "We'll look for more sustainable technologies, because of the scarcity of dollars; technologies, which will help us lower costs and continue at the level we are performing at now," said Walton.
The Jefferson County Roads and Transportation Department is responsible for approximately 2,000 miles of roadway, which means 400 acres of vegetation management. Two maintenance divisions, with approximately an equal amount of acreage, are responsible for maintaining roadside vegetation in the county. Each division uses the same type of equipment in its spraying efforts. Their operations mirror each other.
The department has used a spraying program since 1986 to manage these acres. The goals of its herbicide program are to reduce maintenance costs, provide roadside safety by assuring sight distance to the traveling public, provide a pleasant roadside and eliminate drainage problems that are caused by vegetation.
Over the years the crews have grown in experience and pride. John Reynolds, senior administrative analyst for the department explains, "Our personnel really love the job that they are doing. They take pride in their work and see to it that they spray when it needs to be done and they do it right. You can have the best chemicals and equipment in the world, but if your crew is not dedicated to doing their work correctly, then it will not work."
Jefferson County's department, like many other roadside maintenance departments across the country who use herbicide programs, faces citizens who are concerned with the environmental implications of spraying.
In his acceptance speech Reynolds explained, "We have, throughout the county, hills, valleys, rivers, cities, farms and any other problem all other programs have. We, like everyone else, have the 'don't you dare spray in my neighborhood' citizens also.
"We have a lot of people who associate herbicide spraying and usage as a way of poisoning the environment and a danger to their well-being. Jefferson County is very attentive to the needs and requests of the population. Sure we have requests not to spray and we try to listen to these but we also educate along the way."
Being attentive to the concerns of the county citizenry takes many forms. For example when crews are spraying near pasture lands and streams they take into account the weather conditions, such as the wind, and set their equipment accordingly to eliminate possible safety hazards.
"The use of herbicides is to provide a better environment, with regards to safety, and roadsides that are pleasant viewing and in no way harmful to human beings," stated Reynolds.
The department also is concerned with crew safety. "We have all our applicators licensed through the state of Alabama, and give them the opportunity to attend seminars to educate themselves and be licensed. We provide and require protective equipment when spraying," stated Reynolds.
By instilling a concern for safety, and stressing education and training, Jefferson County has established a dedicated crew, which translates into an award winning vegetation management program.
Barbara Krieg, and her staff is responsible for maintaining the roadsides in Portland, Ore. The Bureau of Maintenance has employed a very successful wildflower program that has received recognition from as far away as England's BBC radio.
In her acceptance speech she described how the program began. "Many people ask, 'Why did you start the wildflower program?' I could give an in-depth long drawn out explanation of budget cuts, under funding, antiquated equipment, lack of support for roadside maintenance, but more to the point the answer is simply, it seemed like a good idea at the time."
Before the wildflowers the bureau mowed. But the mowing program was not funded to a level to maintain the roadside so that they were aesthetically pleasing.
Krieg went on to describe how she met a wildflower seed vendor at a NRVMA conference in Dallas, in the late 1980s. Impressed by his suggestions, her bureau seeded two small traffic islands in wildflowers in the spring of 1989.
The following spring it planted an additional 11 sites with wildflowers. As the flowers bloomed so did the responses of the citizenry of Portland. The Oregonian newspaper wrote an editorial praising the program, and letters came in to the bureau and the local papers lauding the program.
Each year more wildflower sites were added, and public support grew. When asked why the program has been so successful Krieg attributes it to this public support and to the beauty the flowers bring to the lives of Portland's citizens. "It is really pretty, the public likes it and they are vocal in their support. They write letters to the commissioner and to the mayor to say thank you. They are so vocal with their support that when it came to budget time they (the politicians) preserved the program. It is the public support that has made the program so successful and the public supports it because it is attractive."
Toady Portland has 136 wildflower sites throughout the city, ranging in size from 240 to 249,000 sq ft. The wildflowers are used on traffic islands, bridges heads, city-owned property, roadsides, ditches, neighborhoods, and industrial and commercial areas.
Citizens also are encouraged to plant wildflowers. When a citizen calls for information on the program they are sent a packet of wildflower seeds along with a brief description of the program. Citizens are planting the seeds in their ditch lines, parking strips and gardens.
Just like the crew in Jefferson County, Portland benefits from a crew dedicated to roadside maintenance.
"The key elements in making the program successful were the public's vocal support and the crew's dedication in getting the job done," stated Krieg.
The bureau plants the seeds in spring, usually March and April. The planting method begins by spraying out existing vegetation with glyphosate. After the vegetation has died the site is mowed as close as possible, followed by a light tilling. The seeds are broadcast at a rate of 15-20 lb per acre. Because none of the sites are irrigated the seedings are dependent on the weather.
The seed mixes used consist of annuals, perennials and biannuals. "We have found the second-year blooms are not as vibrant as the first. Often in preceding years weed invasion is a major problem. We have found that we have to put the sites in new every two to four years," stated Krieg.
The program has been such a success, that each year new sites are added.
Rick Bayhi, the local market manager for the Monsanto Chemical Co. joins a distinguished list of winners in the individual contribution category for the Roadside Excellence awards. He operates out of St. Gabriel, La.
Bayhi has been helping customers solve their vegetation problems for the past 21 years. He works closely with state and local governments, chemical applicators and utility companies throughout the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.
In has acceptance speech he provided his views on vegetation management.
"It has always been my personal belief that in order to be successful in the vegetation control business a person must be a problem solver. Problems such as equipment, personnel, budgets and vegetation are all common in implementing a new spray program.
"In addition, education and training is also of equal importance. Over the past 20 years I have spent countless hours satisfying these issues in order to provide a successful program for the customer.
"Once the above listed issues are solved, technical issues, on which products to use and at what rates, must be made. Anyone who has worked with herbicides for any length of time will agree that there is no single product that will solve all the various vegetation problems that exist. A chemical representative must be objective enough to recommend products other then those that he represents, if those products are more effective."
Bayhi takes pride in supporting the crews working the front line of a spraying program. "The satisfaction is realized when the customer appreciates all the benefits that an integrated vegetation management program has to offer."