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Banks aviation firm slapped for pesticide use

Applebee Aviation of Banks is in hot water with the Oregon Department of Agriculture after defying an order from the agency that temporarily revoked the company’s pesticide application license.

On Monday, Washington County Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Upton entered a “stipulated preliminary injunction” against Applebee Aviation — essentially a 30-day restraining order that bars Applebee from any further pesticide application activities.

During that time, ODA will “continue with its proposed notice of civil penalty and license revocation,” according to Bruce Pokarney, ODA spokesman.

The department is pursuing a $40,000 civil penalty and a one-year revocation of Applebee Aviation’s Commercial Pesticide Operator license.

On Sept. 25, DOA fined Applebee Aviation $1,100 and suspended the license. The company was also fined $8,850 by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division for safety violations during aerial pesticide applications to forestlands in Douglas County last April.

At least two workers sought medical attention as a result of chemical exposure during that spraying operation, according to an ODA letter notifying Applebee Aviation of the civil penalty.

Owner Mike Applebee paid the fine, according to Pokarney, and was in the process of working to “demonstrate a plan of correction” required to reinstate his license.

But last week, DOA officials got a temporary restraining order in the Washington County courthouse to ground the company’s operations after learning Applebee had continued commercial spraying even after the original license suspension, Pokarney said.

Applebee applied pesticides on Sept. 26 — just a day after the original license suspension — near Astoria and again on Oct. 1 and 2 on Bureau of Land Management land in Lake County, Oregon, Pokarney said.

In the Douglas County incident in April, “ODA found that some of Applebee Aviation’s aerial herbicide activities were performed in a faulty, careless or negligent manner,” according to a Sept. 25 ODA notice to Mike Applebee.

The investigation found that workers handling and applying pesticides were not provided proper protective equipment to wear; were not provided with water or other means of decontamination in case of exposure to pesticides; and were not properly trained on how to “minimize hazards to their safety and health.”

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is also conducting an investigation into Applebee Aviation’s operations in that state.

The News-Times has submitted a public records request on that investigation. No records are available because the investigation is currently active, according to WSDA public records officer Pam Potwin, but is expected to be complete on or around Nov. 20.

Applebee Aviation operates out of the privately owned Apple Valley Airport along Highway 26 near Buxton.

The current violations and fines bring to light concerns several neighbors of Apple Valley Airport have had for many years.

Miki Barnes, who founded Oregon Aviation Watch, is one of those neighbors. OAW seeks to “protect the quality of life for Oregon residents by eliminating the adverse impacts of aviation activity,” according to its website.

“The aerial spray issue is of immediate concern because my husband and I reside on a property that borders Weyerhauser land,” Barnes wrote in an email. “It is my understanding that Weyerhauser contracts with Applebee Aviation to engage in aerial spraying at this location.”

Another neighbor, Ellen Saunders, said neighbors around Apple Valley Airport have long had complaints about low-flying aircraft and noise.

Saunders said Apple Valley Airport’s use permit comes up for review with the county in 2017. She has already filed a letter to county officials requesting the permit for activities at the airport not be renewed:

“I want my complaint to be filed with Washington County and taken into consideration when the review of conditions for Mike Applebee’s file come up for review in 2017. This puts the county on notice that the permits for all activities on Apple Valley but personal use should be withdrawn in 2017. This was a private grass air strip when he bought it in 2003 and it should be returned

to that status as it is abundantly clear that it is being misused.”

According to its website, Applebee Aviation provides aerial spraying operations on forestlands and agricultural crops, as well as a variety of services including aerial surveying and logging support and charter helicopter sightseeing flights.

Mike Applebee did not return a call to the News-Times by press time seeking comment.

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