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Jun 27, 2016 10:00 PM

Chester residents speak out against herbicide treatment along power lines

CHESTER - The New Hampshire Electric Co-Op is preparing to treat newly trimmed areas along its power lines with herbicides, just as it has done for the last five years.

The next round of treatments are set to begin on July 12 in Chester, but some residents in the agriculture-rich town don’t want the chemicals anywhere near their property.

“More and more now, people just don’t want [chemicals] in their lives,” said Mark Kaminski, who lives on Candia Road. “We’re seeing it with local farms and farmer's markets. Everybody is buying local as much as possible. We just don’t want that in our lives anymore. Stop spraying it.”

Kaminski cares for his homestead, called Sunshine Farm, by maintaining organic standards. He raises turkey, chicken, ducks and bees, as well as growing produce and tapping for maple syrup.

“I’ve worked so hard to clean this property without using herbicides, nothing,” he said, sharing his frustrations after learning herbicides would be used along power lines on his property earlier this month.

The co-op is a member-owned power company that has 5,500 miles of lines, serving 83,000 members in 115 towns.

Utility Arborist Scott Carlson said the herbicides are used as part of the company’s integrated vegetation management plan to prevent newly cut tree stumps from re-growing. Not only does this cut costs, but it makes servicing and being around the lines more safe.

“The benefits of doing the herbicide application is that you’re getting rid of the trees that are going to grow tall enough to reach the power lines,” he said Monday.

The undesirable tree species, like oak, maple or birch, can grow to reach the wire and require maintenance as little as every two or three years.

“The herbicide treatments are specifically applied to target stumps, so it’s not a broadcast application that sprays and kills everything,” Carlson said. “We’ll see is a cost saving that we won’t have as much work to do next time, because we’re going to have a habitat that’s early succession, with blueberries and ferns and grasses.”

He also explained safety concerns for both the general public and utility workers, saying if trees are touching the wires, anyone near that tree could be in danger.

“That’s really the bottom line,” he added. “We don’t want people getting hurt by contact, whether direct or indirect with high voltage electricity.”

Kaminski acknowledged and agreed with the safety issue tall trees can pose but questioned if that was the primary motivation to encourage the treatments.

“We know it’s cost effectiveness, but what’s the true cost to the environment in the end?” he asked. “You have to evaluate the cost of that against the cost of coming back and just re-cutting.”

Residents with power lines on their property were notified about the treatments in mid-June and do have the ability to opt out of them.

“Every member of the co-op has the right to refuse treatment,” Carlson said. “We’re here to serve our members and we respect their rights with their property.”

In 2015, more than 3,200 New Hampshire members were notified about treatments that would affect them. Of those, approximately 8 percent, or about 260 people, opted out.

The herbicide treatments in Chester will proceed as planned for those who have not opted out. Kaminski said he has and is encouraging his neighbors to do the same.

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