GENEVA — City business owner and landlord Chad Lahr said he’s not trying to cause a fuss.
However, he said he could keep quiet no longer about the weeds he sees growing around downtown and in other parts of the city.
Last Saturday, a frustrated Lahr sent a letter to City Council members expressing his concern with weeds that he sees on downtown sidewalks, through the cracks between the curbs on streets and even along the railroad tracks that run through downtown Geneva.
“As the owner of multiple businesses and houses within our city, I have always tried to stay out of politics and writing anything like this but I have to reach out and get some explanation,” he wrote. “Today on Facebook a local resident posted a video and pics of how horrible the weeds in our city look. I have heard this complaint over and over again for two years now as I get a lot of foot traffic at my downtown business (Community Proud) and talk to so many people daily. Recently even random tourists that I engaged in conversation actually brought up the weeds they saw and started laughing and asking why it looked so bad. I am a pro-Geneva person to the max, but this weed situation all over our city (and) specifically the main highway and downtown has to get figured out and taken care of now. We can’t go all fall with it looking so bad. I had heard about a blow torch and I really hope that’s not the long term solution. … If people don’t want to use chemicals because it’s not green, then Google how to use non-toxic biodegradable products and use that! If we can’t figure out how to just kill weeds, how can we expect to make any important decisions about this city? … Figure it out, Geneva!”
At-large Councilor Frank Gaglianese III is among those who responded to Lahr’s email, and he concurred with the businessman’s assessment.
“We took a problem that has always been, and due to the DRI project, we created a super weed-management problem,” he told Lahr. “Like I said, this definitely is a major problem and should be a priority, and maybe outsourcing is what we need to do until we get it under control and really take a proactive approach to come up with a solid plan going into next year. For the time being we need to get it under control before we try any alternative methods.”
However, not everyone agreed with Lahr’s take, including Mayor Steve Valentino.
“Threads like this give a perception that nothing is being done to address the issue,” Valentino said. “Staff, BID (Business Improvement District), LDC (Local Development Corporation) and several organizations have put effort into controlling the issue and targeting long term solutions,” he wrote to Lahr. “If everyone complaining joined in to support the effort it would be much closer to a solution. Throwing money at the problem from the city budget is not the sole answer. The LDC and BID have a great idea to reach out for various financial and volunteer angles to not burden the city while increasing staffing efforts. Be part of the solution!”
That response upset Lahr.
“When you say more people should be involved with the solution, Steve, do you mean we should be out actually doing the physical labor or do you mean that we should be trying to brainstorm on ways to raise funds as residents to eradicate the weeds?” he asked. “Should I assemble a small group and go out and weed whack or go to Lowes and buy green solution and treat the weeds all over the city? We pay taxes, and this is the job of the elected officials. It’s been long enough, not months, but years with no solution!”
Valentino had no additional comment on the matter on Wednesday.
“My reply is accurate,” he said.
Ward 2 Councilor Bill Pealer agrees with Lahr.
“The weeds are out of control,” he said. “Many areas over 12 inches tall and 2-plus feet along the ground. Nearly every street has huge patches of weeds growing right out of the blacktop. If this was a property owner, you could call the city citing code and the city would come out to cut the lawn and whack the weeds, and the homeowner would be billed. So what do you do when the city can’t even keep their areas to code? Is this council’s fault? I voted to ban synthetic herbicides under the advisement of our Green Committee two years ago, and while I still agree with the virtue of that ban, maybe it was too disabling. I take responsibility there, and apologize to the residents and businesses that are not happy. I think we should possibly lift said ban for the rest of the year, so the weeds can get brought back under control, then figure out what green policy will work with the staff and tools, and funds we actually have. Just like the lawns of homeowners, we can’t let the city get overgrown. It’s a bad look.
Ward 3 Councilor Jan Regan said Thursday that she understands Lahr’s concerns.
“There is no argument in any corner that favors ‘the weeds,’” she said. “They have to go. They make us look like a city that doesn’t take care of itself. Much work is needed.”
However, Regan said the city’s ban on synthetic applications should not be the target of all the blame.
“There are solutions that honor a unanimous vote by City Council to eliminate the use of harmful synthetic chemicals while taking on this problem,” she said. “The issue here is much more personal than chemicals or bans. The City Green Committee has suggested researched approaches to weeds, and experts associated with Cornell AgriTech have weighed in along the way. Yet even to find a date to test one approach took almost the entire summer to schedule.”
She said weed management is just one component of the myriad responsibilities of Department of Public Works. Department Director Joe Venuti agrees.
“Every single day is different in the DPW,” he said. “Dealing with this past week’s lakefront vandalism is a great example of how resources are often pulled in unplanned directions.”
Regan acknowledged the urgency of addressing the issue, but does not want to see the city take a step back.
“A return to widespread spraying is not the answer, even if considered a one-time solution,” she said. “The funds designated to purchase a steam weeder — rejected after further consideration by DPW — need to be refocused to an approach that can be implemented now — whether a different tool or an outside contractor — and get us back to where we need to be.”
Not giving up
Venuti said the work on alternative methods continue.
“Since the 2020 ban on pesticides and herbicides ... we have researched and tried several options of weed control, and we are not giving up on finding the best solutions. We were extremely excited to try an organic-branded, clove-based herbicide called Weed Slayer that is even manufactured here locally. We tested it in the fall of 2020, but learned that winter that the Green Committee found literature from California, claiming that some compounds of the product, allegedly were not organic.
Venuti said they tried weed steaming, but said the fuel consumption of the steamer was not environmentally friendly.
And yes, they’ve tried weed flaming as well, he said.
“Flaming weeds does work to kill the leaves, however, it takes a considerable amount of labor because you need to hit the weeds multiple times,” he said. “We are not convinced that the roots can be killed by flaming without numerous applications over the same areas. Flaming also has safety concerns and cannot used everywhere.”
As for the new “green infrastructure” constructed as part of the Downtown Streetscape project, that is the responsibility of project contractor Nardozzi Construction until the project is completed to the satisfaction of the city, Venuti noted.
City Manager Amie Hendrix said the city is not ignoring the issue.
“Buildings and Grounds crews continue to work on removing weeds throughout our city,” she said. “Increased rain and continued warm weather has meant mowing and weeding needs have doubled in all of our parks and cemeteries this past month. Weather conditions and facility emergencies such as water main breaks, trash pick ups or damage to our parks may slow down the weeding efforts. We continue to work with the city committees, BID, LDC, and other community partners to find additional solutions and continue to support partnership and volunteer efforts. As we approach the 2023 budget process we will be looking to find ways to contribute to these multifaceted efforts.”