Oakland Cemetery in Marine on St. Croix is a place cherished by residents of the community and loved ones of those resting there alike. However, with the recent work done nearby there has been something disturbing the usually tranquil area.

After a company hired by the city finished a road work project, they spread grass seed and laid material to keep the seed from washing away. This erosion control netting lessens the risk of losing seeds and having barren dirt patches throughout the summer. But this netting is made of plastic and has been breaking up into small chunks, littering the cemetery and surrounding area. Beyond being unsightly, these pieces pre and post breakdown pose risks to local wildlife.

Various erosion control products are generally used to help the germination of grass seed, which sits on top of the soil and is therefore vulnerable to being washed away. But some of these control nettings are made from polypropylene, a type of plastic that has detrimental environmental factors. The netting that has been used around the Oakland Cemetery consists of some type of plastic material, likely polypropylene (PP). This material will take 20 to 30 years, according to some sources, to decompose. Within the realm of plastic that is a short time. However, it still contains toxic metals like lead and cadmium that leak into the environment when the PP breaks down. Prior to breakdown the PP netting causes other problems too. The DNR explains that non-biodegradable netting entangles terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, causing death. 

On June 13 at the Marine city council meeting, local resident Wendy Ward brought her concerns to the council regarding the usage of this material. She explained that pieces were being found all over the cemetery and the surrounding area. Marine local Anne Reich agreed with Ward’s concerns and backed up her observation of debris. 

The council stated they would revisit the agreement they had formed with the company, TA Schifsky and Sons, to confirm whether or not they were required to use a biodegradable form of erosion control mesh. If the landscapers used the wrong material according to their contract they will be required to clear the debris, according to the council. If that is not the case, the city will fund the cleanup, but would be glad for any volunteer help in the matter. 

For the future, there are many biodegradable erosion control materials available, seemingly just as accessible as the plastic variety. Therefore there is no need to compromise between beautiful grassy areas and a safe environment for wildlife.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly named Schifskys Landscaping Co. as the company contracted by the City of Marine for the roadwork. The Messenger is sorry for the error.

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