Thursday, April 11, 2013
The planned use of herbicides to control vegetation along the proposed new high voltage transmission line proposed by SWEPCO raises the level of concern by residents in the path of the new power line.
SWEPCO spokesman Peter Main said vegetation management for high voltage lines includes manual and mechanical clearing, and selective herbicide applications. Manual and mechanical clearing mostly takes place during actual construction of the lines, while maintenance includes selective use of herbicides.
Use of herbicides in Northwest Arkansas has generated controversy for Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp. (CECC). Large numbers of CECC members have come to annual meetings protesting herbicides being sprayed on their property. CECC has an option for property owners to opt out of spraying, but must agree not to sue if they are sprayed. Main said SWEPCO doesn’t have a similar procedure, but will visit with individual owners if they want to discuss their concerns.
“But there are sound reasons for the use of herbicides as part of our right-of-way maintenance, and we like folks to understand what those are,” Main said. “Manual and mechanical cleaning without the follow-up herbicide applications doesn’t control root systems of the woody vegetation and you often get even more woody vegetation growing back. What we are trying to accomplish is to convert woody vegetation within rights-of-way to low growing grasses, forbs and herbs that don’t include the growth of the tree species that get up into the lines.
“We have a federally mandated requirement to maintain distance between our transmission facilities and the nearest vegetation. That is in order to maintain reliability on lines crucial to the electric grid and certainly the 345-kilovolt lines are backbones of electric system. It is very important to electric reliability for the region.”
Pat Costner, a retired senior scientist with Greenpeace, said property owners could expect the same issues with herbicides with SWEPCO that they have experienced with CECC.
“Both companies use herbicides and, as far as I know, neither will enter into firm agreements with individual landowners to forego the use of herbicides on a landowner’s property,” said Costner, whose 135-acre homestead is along the preferred route for the new high voltage line. “Both companies use outside contractors for spraying herbicides on line rights-of-way. In all probability, both companies direct contractors to use the same or similar mixtures of herbicides.”
Information on the effects of each individual herbicide on people and other vulnerable creatures is generally incomplete. However, Costner said many herbicides, as well as the accompanying adjuvants, have been shown to have detrimental impacts on several vulnerable species found in this area.
“Even less is known about the impacts of mixtures of multiple herbicides and adjuvants,” she said.
Because Northwest Arkansas is in a geological area known as karst where limestone erosion produces caves, sinkholes and underground streams, chemicals sprayed on the ground can enter into wells and surface water supplies that may be used for drinking water.
Some chemically sensitive individuals report becoming very ill after nearby herbicide spraying.
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