Questions for the utility company

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To the Editor:

This is an open letter to the Tisbury Board of Health.

With all the spring foliage in full array, it is evident that much of the plant life along the utility company’s right of way through our town is dead. All of the oak, pine, sassafras, and chokecherry are without leaves or buds. Only the poison ivy and some ferns remain alive.

This could only have occurred through the application of herbicides. While I assume the utility company owns this strip of land, it is open to and used by the public. Children play there; joggers run there; people walk their dogs there. The property and gardens of many townspeople abut the right of way.

I have spent most of my career training firefighters about hazardous materials and am the producer of an award-winning film on pesticides. So, I can tell you that all pesticides have potential, unintended harmful effects, and it can be assumed that this is also the case with the herbicide that was evidently used along the power line. It was strong enough, after all, to kill trees 10 and 12 feet tall.

Here are some questions which I would count on you to answer and to provide those answers to the public. People who live near the power line need to know the answers.

1. What organization or company carried out the herbicide application?

2. Was any permit required to allow the herbicide application, and did the company have such a permit?

3. Is there any requirement to flag or mark the area after the application of the herbicide? If so, was this done?

4. Was any notification given to abutters prior to the application of the herbicide? For example, were abutters warned to keep children and pets indoors while the application was in process?

5. What precautions were taken to avoid drift during application?

5. What was the herbicide that was used, and what are the active and inert ingredients? Some inert ingredients are more harmful than the pesticide.

6. What are the symptoms of acute and chronic exposure to this herbicide? Once the product is identified, this information can be obtained through the EPA’s web site.

7. What are the potential effects on wildlife and birdlife?

8. What bodies of water or town well fields might be endangered by storm water run-off following this application?

This has left an ugly scar through our town. From personal observation, it appears that the local skunk population, denizens of the power line, has all but disappeared. The large flock of wild turkeys that has frequented our neighborhood for years and which is frequently on the right of way is now reduced to one sickly looking bird.

Does the utility company plan to replace the flora with something else, or is it just to become sand and poison ivy? What erosion issues will ensue? In prior years, it has been the utility company’s procedure to cut the right of way every five or six years. Now apparently, that honest labor has been replaced with the widespread application of chemicals. This may be cheaper for the utility company, but is it the best thing for our town and our Island?

Gordon Massingham

Vineyard Haven