By Lisa Loomis
Three representatives from Green Mountain Power (GMP) answered questions from the Waitsfield Select Board and members of the public about herbicide use in the power line rights of way at the select board's regular meeting this week.
The board, on April 28, met with Dave Desimone, Bert Stewart and Jarod Wilcox from Green Mountain Power's forestry management division.
"What is your take on the negative impacts of herbicides versus the economic benefits?" asked select board member Logan Cooke.
"It is beneficial for us to talk to towns. We manage 10,000 line miles in the state. We manage 1,200 miles per year on the transmission lines. The distribution lines are on a different cycle. Herbicides and water quality are highly regulated in Vermont. We don't do indiscriminate spraying. There were times in the 1980s and '90s where we did large-scale spraying. Now we use low amounts of herbicides. We go through right of ways with backpacks and spray individual plants," Desimone said.
Stewart added that GMP adheres to strict regulations about buffers for surface waters, private and public water supplies and streams.
"Would you dip into wells to see if there has been any contamination after treatment?" asked select board member Sal Spinosa.
"We've had private landowners test their wells after we've treated and there's been no contamination. We stay 100 feet away from private water supplies. Our stem and stump buffer distance is 15 feet away from surface water," Stewart said.
"Tree crews go through first and cut. They are followed by crews who come through and apply herbicide directly to the stumps. The next year a foliar application directly to the leaves of the target species is applied," explained Jarod Wilcox. He added that the state has certified inspectors on staff who conduct regular inspections whenever a utility has a permit for and is applying herbicides.
Spinosa raised a concern over the town's municipal water source, wells on Reed Road near a main GMP transmission line that runs from Waitsfield over the Northfield Ridge to Northfield.
"Hypothetical question about our aquifer: If a nearby landowner says, 'Do whatever you need to do,' how is our well protected?" Spinosa asked.
"Even if a landowner says, 'Do whatever you want,' a stream still gets a 100-foot buffer," Stewart said, leading Spinosa to ask about how something as subtle as an aquifer was protected. His question was not answered.
"Does the town get a list of the herbicides that are used?" asked town resident Ron Jacobs. The herbicides are listed in the legal warnings and MSD sheets are available, he was told.
"As a landowner, how will I know you are coming across my property?" asked Ruth Pestle.
"Residents and homeowners who call the utility and talk to us go into the herbicide notification base. Before we come within 1,000 feet of your property you will be called or someone will knock on your door," Wilcox said.
Pestle followed up with a question about the impact of the herbicide on wildlife upon whom it might drip. Wilcox explained that the herbicides are designed to work on enzymes in foliage versus bears. Desimone brought up an ongoing, 59-year study of the impact of utility rights of way, herbicides and animal habitat, noting that selective use of herbicides improve wildlife habitat by encouraging the growth of low growing plants instead of mowed rights of way.
Those present were told that the herbicide is applied in droplets to foliage and that it contains a surfactant which sets it within an hour so that it will not drip onto the ground if it rains. The GMP personnel said that their line maintenance operations were completely weather dependent and that rain and wind often meant work didn't get done.
The reps were asked if the town could take a position that no herbicides were to be used within town lines.
"The town can't dictate what happens on someone's land anymore than I can be told not to use Round Up on my lawn," Wilcox said.
They emphasized that no work was planned in Waitsfield for this year but said that project could come up. To contact the GMP reps for further information or to opt out, call Desimone at (802) 770-8675 or Wilcox at (802) 747-5452.