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Town Asks MA Supreme Court to Affirm Right to Stop Private Pesticide Use in Sensitive Pond

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The town of Chilmark located on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts is not backing down from its decision to challenge property owners and the local conservation commission's attempts to introduce a toxic herbicide directly into the waters of the only enclosed, great pond of the well-known, destination island.

While one might assume that the litigation centers around whether or not the herbicide proposed for use in the local water source poses as a danger, this issue is only a sideline debate. Instead, the central dispute highlights one of the greatest challenges facing local governments surrounding pesticide control and a locality's authority to protect both its citizens and its local environment from the hazards that these chemicals bestow: preemption.

Preemption is the ability of one level of government to override laws of a lower level. While local governments once had the ability to restrict the use of pesticides on all land within their jurisdictions, pressure from the chemical industry led many states to pass legislation that prohibits municipalities from adopting local pesticide ordinances affecting the use of pesticides on private property that are more restrictive than state policy.

Unfortunately, Massachusetts is one of the many states that has enacted preemptive pesticide legislation, but this did not stop the town of Chilmark from doing what it thought was necessary to protect a valuable natural resource. When a 62-page environmental study of Squibnocket Pond, conducted by Marine Policy Center in Woods Hole, came to a troubling though unsurprising finding that the pond was significantly threatened by contaminants like pesticides, the town knew that it needed to take action by putting in place a local bylaw.

Enacted in 1990, the bylaw established several protective standards, one of which included a prohibition on the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides within 500 feet of the pond. The herbicide at issue in the current litigation, Rodeo, is an herbicide that utilizes the active ingredient glyphosate.   
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