NStar won't Spray Herbicide on Cape

posted Mar 4, 2011, 9:46 AM by Elysse Magnotto-Cleary
As published in the Cape Cod Times
March 03, 2011

NStar will hold off on spraying herbicides to clear vegetation under the company's power lines on Cape Cod for at least another year.

The utility, which delivers electricity to the region, has agreed to extend a voluntary moratorium on spraying through 2011 to allow a comprehensive study to quantify and reduce the use of herbicides by all users on the Cape, NStar and Barnstable County officials said Wednesday.

Over the past year, opponents of NStar's spraying plan have called for an end to the practice, citing concerns about health effects from the chemicals once they enter the region's water supply.

"NStar is unwavering in our commitment to provide safe, reliable electricity to our customers and we firmly believe our integrated vegetation management program is the best way to do that," NStar spokesman Steve Sullivan said in a statement released by the company. "However, we also take very seriously our role as good corporate citizens and this moratorium extension further demonstrates our willingness to working toward a Capewide reduction of herbicide use."

The Cape Cod Commission worked with NStar for the past several months on an agreement to extend the moratorium, according to the agency's executive director, Paul Niedzwiecki.

The extension came a day after Cape lawmakers announced legislation that would require utilities to negotiate with communities that don't want herbicides used beneath power lines.

Under the proposed legislation, if a deal can't be reached within 60 days, the dispute goes to arbitration.

If a municipality can't ratify a reasonable no-spray pact within 90 days, the utility can apply its choice of state-approved herbicides.

"This additional year gives everybody an opportunity to look at a better way to do what NStar has to do," state Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, said Wednesday after hearing about the extension. "It really just begins the discussion."

The move also gives Cape towns a chance to look at other uses of herbicides and which of those uses may be more necessary than others, he said.

The legislation on spraying, Turner said, should move forward despite the extension of the moratorium.

One way or another, NStar must keep its power lines clear. Federal law requires utilities to keep the area under their power lines free of any fast-growing plants or trees that could damage the lines.

Because of the federal regulations, NStar will need to return to clear-cut mowing along rights-of-way beneath power lines this year, NStar spokesman Michael Durand said.

The moratorium's extension was not in response to the bill proposed by Cape lawmakers, he said, adding that the intent is to allow more study of the use of herbicides Capewide by everyone and not just by the utility.

Opponents of NStar's spraying were not overly impressed by the moratorium's extension.

It would have been better if NStar announced they would never use herbicides again, according to Sue Phelan of GreenCAPE, a nonprofit Cape-based group opposed to the use of herbicides.

"It isn't party time just yet," Phelan said. "Cape citizens, town officials and Cape legislators have worked tirelessly for over a year and here we are — back in the same place."

Last year, the Cape Cod Commission negotiated a yearlong moratorium on the spraying so the county agency could map wells and wetlands near NStar's power lines.

More than a dozen Cape towns have approved a resolution asking NStar to stop herbicide spraying, but an ad hoc committee appointed by Barnstable County commissioners released a report in February endorsing NStar's use of herbicides as part of the company's vegetation management plan.

The ad hoc committee, which was made up of herbicide users, county officials and opponents of herbicide use, also called for continued study of the issue. Phelan, along with other committee members who oppose herbicide spraying, resigned over the decision to endorse spraying.

"I think this was NStar being a good citizen and agreeing to allow us to take the time to take that report to the next level," Niedzwiecki said.

Cape Cod Commission staff will present a plan to county commissioners Wednesday to study the use of herbicides Capewide, including a monitoring program and educational outreach, Niedzwiecki said.