Tisbury looks to join Brewster in Eversource spraying battle

Selectmen authorize town administrator to seek restraining order.

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Tisbury is looking at taking court action against Eversource to halt spraying of herbicides. — Stacey Rupolo

Tisbury selectmen on Tuesday said they want to seek a restraining order against planned spraying of plant growth on Eversource power lines.

Buoyed by a decision in a Cape courtroom where a judge issued a restraining order against the spraying to Brewster, Tisbury selectmen voted unanimously to authorize town administrator Jay Grande and health agent Maura Valley to work with the town’s attorney on court action against Eversource.

Ms. Valley told selectmen Eversource has advertised spraying between Sept. 25 and Dec. 31 on the Island.

“If the town would like to try take legal action, it would have to happen rather quickly,” Ms. Valley told the board.

On Friday, Brewster was granted a preliminary injunction in Barnstable Superior Court that will halt all Eversource herbicide spraying until Nov. 1, pending Eversource appeal.

“As it currently stands, Eversource is barred from spraying herbicides in Brewster for the rest of the year,” Orleans-based attorney Bruce Taub, representing the town of Brewster, told The Times on Friday. If the decision holds up, it will effectively halt Eversource spraying for the remainder of the year in Brewster, because most foliage will be gone by Nov. 1.

Mr. Taub said the legal precedent, as it stands currently, could benefit separate action by by towns on Martha’s Vineyard.

“It’s not binding. It’s not like another court would have to follow it, but it does have value,” Mr. Taub said. “If towns on Martha’s Vineyard sought an injunction on similar grounds in Dukes County, their chances would be equally as good as Brewster’s was in Barnstable.”

On Friday, Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Adam Turner told The Times, “The MVC will look very closely at initiating legal action based on this decision.”

Mr. Turner was at Tuesday’s hearing, and pressed by selectman Tristan Israel on whether the commission would take legal action, he said he is still reviewing the planning agency’s standing. He did vow to offer the commission’s full support for any action taken by the town.

Officials fear the spraying could adversely impact the Island’s shallow aquifer, Mr. Turner said. He’d also like to see the utility provide more information, so residents can avoid being home during spraying. “They will not tell you when they’re actually coming to make these applications,” he said.

Ms. Valley said she’s asked Eversource to let abutters know when it’s safe to use their property, but has been given no assurance that would happen.

The board got strong support from a half-dozen audience members, including a Vineyard Haven man who lives near the power lines. “I would strongly urge you to take this court action,” Stephen Power of Vineyard Haven said.

Rodeo, one of the herbicides used by Eversource, has been a source of controversy due to its active ingredient, glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. In 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded glyphosate is not a carcinogen. However, in 2015, the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans. The debate has been ongoing ever since.

After doing further investigation on what Eversource intends to spray, Edgartown officials rescinded their support of spraying near the bike path in town. At a meeting Monday, conservation agent Jane Varkonda told selectmen the report Eversource gave her provided information only on the herbicide Roundup. Her initial research found Roundup OK, but after speaking with Eversource senior arborist William Hayes, she learned that the three herbicides of use would actually be Escort, Krenite, and Arsenal. Ms. Varkonda said these herbicides are fairly new, and she can’t be sure they wouldn’t have adverse effects on humans and animals.

The bike path’s close proximity to a number of residential homes is another concern. Selectmen decided that talking to Eversource as neighbors would be the best approach to the proposed chemical spraying.

“We want people in Eversource to know we have a problem,” selectmen chairman Arthur Smadbeck said.

Michael Durand, an Eversource spokesman, said the utility has not yet been notified about the action taken by Tisbury. “If we do receive notice, we’ll closely review it and proceed appropriately,” he said.

Tisbury selectmen have sent letters to Eversource and attended public hearings.

“We are against this,” chairman Larry Gomez said. “If we have to do this the old ’60s route, we’ll stand in front of them with signs.”

Mr. Israel, who attended some of the public forums, called the process a sham. “We need to make some statement as a town,” he said.

Selectman Melinda Loberg said Eversource needs to be pushed to find alternatives. “The community has spoken loud and clear on this issue,” she said.

Town leaders also talked about preparing a home rule petition for town meeting with planning board chairman Ben Robinson, urging a look at the chemicals used by homeowners, including similar herbicides and pesticides. “We’re doing this to ourselves,” he said. He called the Eversource chemicals a “drop in the bucket” compared with what homeowners are using on plants and rodents.

While selectmen supported the concept, Mr. Israel said more immediate action is needed to stop the Eversource spraying.

Eversource spraying was also on West Tisbury’s board of selectmen agenda.

Reporters Barry Stringfellow and Brittany Bowker contributed to this report.