By Ben Rodgers
ONEIDA – State officials on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency questioned a local man who claims the Oneida Tribe incorrectly applied a herbicide defoliant on his property.
Vic Wozniak has lived for nearly a decade off Wisconsin Highway 54 near the Seminary Road roundabout. This August he noticed something unusual on his property line.
Grass was starting to die, his grandson Casheous had a rash and their puppy Lucy was losing fur.
“We can’t pin it down to prove it, but them playing in the pool, the dog and my grandson, we had to take them both to the doctor due to skin irritation,” Wozniak said.
He said either the Oneida Tribe, or someone hired by the tribe, sprayed a generic Roundup herbicide by his property line sometime after Aug. 7, which then got into the pool Casheous and Lucy were using and on toys near the fence.
“Since they both had it, why did they?” said Crystal Wozniak, Vic’s daughter and Casheous’ mother. “He’s never had allergies like that. So I’m not sure. That’s why I’m concerned.”
Vic and Crystal are also worried that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen.
“We’re worried about two months, five months, eight months, two years from now,” Vic said. “The chemical is now in the cells of Casheous and the dog.”
Vic has an 8-foot high fence around the border of his property and he and his daughter believe the spraying got under and over the barrier.
Shortly after it was sprayed on the 6-foot weeds on the other side of his fence, crews came in and cut them down, which could have spread the chemical further.
“I don’t think they’re using the proper mechanisms to apply the chemicals,” Crystal Wozniak said. “I think they’re winging it.”
The Land Management department for the tribe declined to comment on this story.
In response to the incident, Vic and some friends have put up a sign on his property that reads “No Roundup on the Rez,” next to a skull and crossbones.
“Who would give the directive to do this without notifying the community?” Vic said.
Vic’s friend, Dan Hawk, said the tribe should strive to be good stewards of the land and that this incident doesn’t help meet that goal.
“The problem is if you go up the road here on (Wisconsin Highway) 172 to the land office you’ll see above their door ‘Caretakers of the Land,’ but sometimes the problem is the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing,” Hawk said.
Because his land is on the Oneida Reservation, the state has no authority over enforcement or regulation. That has to be done by the EPA.
Christopher Lettau, environmental enforcement specialist, along with Mark Skare, environmental enforcement supervisor, from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, visited Vic and Crystal Tuesday, Oct. 2, to ask questions about the incident.
In this case, the two, acting on behalf of the state and representing the EPA, will gather facts from both sides before they send a report to EPA midwest headquarters in Chicago where a decision on possible violation and enforcement will occur.
“If it’s their property they have a right to apply to their property as long as they follow the label directions,” Skare said. “What they don’t have a right to is to let it drift onto your property.”
Skare said they have 90 days to file a report to the EPA. The timetable for an EPA ruling is unknown.
Rich Heidel, Hobart village president, was at the Tuesday meeting, not in an official village capacity, but as a friend with a comprehensive knowledge of tribal policies when it comes to land and possible violations enforcement.
Heidel also expressed concern for any potential runoff as Vic’s property is located close to Hobart and uphill from Duck Creek.
“I can’t verify one thing or the other, but it would seem to me the natural design and pitch of the land is inwards to Duck Creek,” Heidel said.