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Eversource refutes residents’ concerns about use of herbicides

  • Delta Carney organized a meeting at Ashfield’s Elmer’s Store Friday about Eversource’s announcement that it would spray herbicides along power line right-of-ways in the town and 31 other municipalities. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Concerned Ashfield residents Elizabeth Bienz, Delta Carney, Jenny Wildermuth and Esther Coler meet at Elmer’s Store in Ashfield Friday about proposed herbicide spraying along power line right-of-ways in the area. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ



Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 02, 2019

While some residents are concerned about Eversource’s plan to spray herbicides near right-of-way high-voltage power lines in 32 towns, company staff say the approach is a necessary one that also helps low-growing plants to prosper.

The goal of removing high-hanging vegetation is obvious: it ensures plants do not interfere with power lines. But critics say Eversource could remove vegetation by hand-cutting or mowing down plants instead of spraying them with herbicides.

“If anything leaches out and gets into those brooks, we’re fishing and sending our children to swim in a chemical soup in the lake,” Delta Carney of Ashfield said previously. “What we’re saying is: no spraying.”

In a Recorder paid advertisement June 17, Eversource announced it would go to 32 western Massachusetts communities from June to December to remove vegetation near right-of-way power lines using a combination of herbicides, mowing and hand-cutting. The company calls this approach an “integrated vegetation management program,” and does this every four years, said William Hayes, supervisor for vegetation management. Town administrators are all notified 45 and 21 days in advance of its program, while abutters receive personal notifications, he said.

After learning of these plans last week, a handful of Ashfield residents expressed opposition to the prospect of herbicides being sprayed in their town. They said herbicides would run into water sources for drinking and recreation, like the Ashfield Lake, risking their children’s health and their own.

Hayes clarified that the program started in Ashfield last year, and the intention this year is to do “touch ups” near power lines, though nothing is scheduled yet.

Several residents in Ashfield, as well as a couple in Gill and Conway, contacted Hayes with questions about Eversource’s plans to spray herbicides. Hayes said after he listened to the residents and answered their questions, about half felt satisfied with the program, while the other half still preferred the company did not use herbicides.

Hayes said it is necessary to use herbicides to kill vegetation rather than hand-cutting or mowing because otherwise the company will need to continuously go back to the area to remove the plants. Hayes said the company “selectively” removes plants with herbicides and only applies the chemicals to the area itself.

“People have a vision of the olden days. This is an integrated approach using a combination of mowing and hand-trimming,” Hayes said.

Another benefit of removing high-hanging vegetation, according to Hayes: it encourages the growth of vegetation that is lower to the ground.

“Our program promotes a native population of low-growing shrubs,” Hayes said.

One concerned Ashfield resident, Carney, raised the idea of removing plants with goats instead of herbicides. Hayes panned this notion, saying goats cannot discern what needs to be removed from what does not, and may eat too many plants. He also noted that goats raise their own environmental concerns as they leave behind droppings.

In the advertisement, Eversource listed the chemicals and herbicides it would use. The herbicides are: Krenite S, Garlon 4 Ultra, Patriot, Rodeo mixed with Escort XP, Arsenal Powerline and Polaris.

These chemicals are approved by the federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the state Department of Agricultural Resources. Eversource does not test these chemicals itself, Hayes said, but relies on state and federal assessments.

While the government has OK’d the herbicides used by Eversource, one in particular, Rodeo, has been subject to high-profile studies in the past few years about its link to cancer. Rodeo contains glyphosate, one of the most widely-used ingredients in the U.S. commonly sold in popular weed killers, “Roundup” and “Ranger Pro.”

The European Food Safety Authority wrote in 2015 that glyphosate is “unlikely to represent a carcinogenic hazard for humans,” an assessment the EPA agreed with in 2017. Still, the European Commission announced in March that it would convene a group of member states to study the issue further. If the plan is approved, the Assessment Group on Glyphosate (AGG) will include France, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Eversource is required to submit a management plan to the state Department of Agricultural Resources every five years. The company presented its plan to the department for a hearing in Northampton in February.

Eversource intends to remove vegetation in the following communities this year: Amherst, Ashfield, Belchertown, Cheshire, Chesterfield, Conway, Cummington, Dalton, Deerfield, Easthampton, Erving, Gill, Granby, Greenfield, Hadley, Hancock, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, Leverett, Montague, Northfield, Pelham, Pittsfield, Plainfield, Shelburne, Shutesbury, South Hadley, Sunderland, Warwick, Wendell and Windsor.

Eversource’s vegetation management plan for 2019 to 2024 can be viewed at bit.ly/2NdWJPC.

Reach Grace Bird at gbird@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.