8 Cape, Vineyard towns seek hearing to appeal herbicide plan

Christine Legere
Cape Cod Times
June 15, 2017

 

Eversource expected to begin spraying under power lines in fall.

Eight Cape and Islands communities have continued their effort to stop herbicide spraying beneath power lines in their towns, submitting a new round of requests for a hearing before the Department of Agricultural Resources to make their case.

The state approved Eversource’s 2017 spray plan last month, and towns had until Monday to request a hearing to appeal that decision.

Spraying usually takes place shortly after Labor Day.

“The towns want to have a conversation with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources in the same room, so we can understand where they’re coming from and they can understand our side,” said Laura Kelley, president of Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer, the citizens group that has led the effort to stop herbicide application under utility lines in the region.

This year’s spray list includes Barnstable, Bourne, Brewster, Chatham, Dennis, Falmouth, Harwich, Orleans, Sandwich and Yarmouth, along with Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard.

On June 7, Kelley and Bruce Taub, an attorney working on behalf of a few towns that want the spraying stopped, talked to the Massachusetts Pesticide Board.

“We were looking for a moratorium for this year,” Kelley said. “It’s the final year of Eversource’s five-year integrated vegetation management plan.”

The Pesticide Board took no action on Taub’s submitted motion to declare a one-year moratorium, however, because it had no prior opportunity to review the request or allow for public notice under the state’s Open Meeting Law, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agricultural Resources said.

The board will take the motion under consideration at its next meeting Sept. 7.

As an alternative to a moratorium, Taub submitted a motion that the board order the Department of Agricultural Resources to expedite an adjudicatory hearing before the fall spray date.

The board approved a “nonbinding advisory ruling” to urge the department to preparefor such a hearing requested in August, the department spokeswoman said.

In his written hearing request to Agriculture Commissioner John Lebeaux, Brewster Town Administrator Michael Embury said nonchemical methods of vegetation control along rights-of-way and transmission lines — such as hand mowing — have been used in many places, including Cape Cod, in the past.

“While use of herbicides may be a less expensive short-term solution, Eversource demonstrates total disregard for the fragile nature of Cape Cod’s environment and drinking water sources, which we cannot afford to become fouled and unusable,” Embury wrote.

Yarmouth Town Administrator Daniel Knapik, in his hearing request, said “any contamination of the town’s water supply would certainly be a tremendous financial burden and potentially limit water supply to our citizens.”

Some hearing requests were submitted by health boards and water departments.

Taub said he expected the hearing requests submitted by the Cape Cod communities this week would be denied, keeping the way clear for the herbicide spraying in the fall. “I may look into getting a temporary restraining order,” Taub said, adding he doubted that effort would meet with success.

“My guidance to the towns is to look forward to 2018,” Taub said.

There is increasing concern that glyphosate, an ingredient in the herbicide set to be applied to leaves, stumps and bark by workers using backpack sprayers, may cause health problems.

Glyphosate, found in the over-the-counter product Roundup, has been a source of much debate in the United States and Europe, particularly after the World Health Organization in 2015 said the chemical “probably” causes cancer.

“We’re aware that the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has received requests for adjudicatory hearings regarding our herbicide applications on the Cape and Vineyard,” Eversource spokesman Michael Durand said. “Once we receive the information about the requests, we’ll thoroughly review it and evaluate whether or not to intervene.

“Our Integrated Vegetation Management program, which includes the targeted application of state-approved herbicides along our rights-of-way, is heavily regulated and has proven time and again to be the single most effective way to control the growth of incompatible plants while allowing compatible species to thrive,” Durand said.

 

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