NStar Gets Green Light to Use Herbicides on Cape Cod

Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Gregory C. Watson  approved NStar’s yearly vegetation management plan on Friday afternoon, allowing the utility company to use herbicides to keep its rights-of-way clear.

Approval will allow NStar to use herbicides effective immediately for the remainder of 2013.

The decision is a blow to GreenCape, which has been leading a campaign to keep NStar from using herbicides. Susan Phelan, director of the nonprofit, said it currently has up to 11,000 individuals signed to a petition to cease herbicide use on the Cape.

NStar has also submitted its 2014 vegetation plan to the state agriculture agency for its approval. The 2014 plan will be published for public notice tomorrow at which time a 45-day public comment period will begin.

The use of herbicides would mark the first time in nearly four years that NStar has used the spray.

In a phone interview earlier this year, Michael P. Durand, spokesman for the utility company, said that NStar would use herbicides immediately following a decision.

“We’re pleased the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources has approved our plan, so we can continue with this very important electric service reliability work,” Mr. Durand wrote in a statement on yesterday. “Our Integrated Vegetation Management program, similar to those run by utilities across the country, has consistently proven to be the best way to maintain reliable service along our rights-of-way as well as to promote the growth of a self-sustaining meadowland’s environment requiring less and less use of herbicides.”

While she is disappointed with the decision, Ms. Phelan and GreenCape have not given up. The organization has sent an appeal to Mr. Watson and the state agency about its decision.

During a phone interview yesterday, Ms. Phelan said she is writing a public announcement to warn residents of the potential dangers and precautions individuals can take while NStar sprays. “I heard from NStar that they are spraying tomorrow [Tuesday],” Ms. Phelan said. “I want people to be prepared.”

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She reminded the public that herbicide spraying is limited to use only in wind speeds between three and ten miles per hour. “That’s a very hard thing to meet on Cape. We’re asking people to look out the window and take videos and note the wind velocity.”

She also noted that residents in proximity to spray should close windows and doors and keep children and animals off any sprayed areas, to harvest any remaining vegetable from  gardens and to not harvest anything after spraying, and when driving through an area, she said to close vents and put a car’s fan on maximum recirculation.

The Cape Cod Commission instituted a year-long moratorium on herbicide use by NStar in 2010 for the purpose of mapping public and private wells that could be impacted by the chemicals. NStar voluntarily extended that moratorium until this year.

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