July 12, 2013

CMP gets flak for herbicide use on Oakland walking trail

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

OAKLAND — Central Maine Power’s use of herbicides near a popular walking trail in Oakland has some residents upset, but the company says killing the vegetation around its transmission lines helps keep the power on for Maine’s homes and businesses.

click image to enlarge

Central Maine Power recently used herbicides near a walking trail in Oakland to clear vegetation around its transmission lines, but some residents are concerned about notification of the chemical’s use.

Photo by Emily Shaw

Vegetation information

Central Maine Power officials say those interested in learning more about the Vegetation Management Program can call the company at 1-800-750-4000 to speak to the vegetation management department, or visit the company website at www.cmpco.com.

In recent years, the power company has been more aggressive in attacking vegetation that threatens its lines, pruning and chemically treating the growth every five years instead of less frequently.  

On July 3, a contractor working for the power company sprayed herbicide beneath a stretch of power lines that coincides with the Messalonskee Stream Trail, which runs along the stream. The spraying generated complaints at the town office from residents who were unsettled by the sight of a large tract of dying vegetation.

Oakland resident Emily Shaw, who frequently uses the trail, said she didn’t know the work was happening until she saw a worker from the company’s contractor, Lucas Tree Experts, enter the area on an ATV loaded with tanks of liquid.

Shaw, who also teaches political science at Thomas College, said she was concerned because she uses the trail with her child and dog, and because she could see the herbicide entering the stream.

“That entire area went from being summery and green to large swaths of it being killed off, being ugly and brown,” Shaw said.

Shaw said she isn’t opposed to maintenance, but she would have preferred a chance to trim the vegetation herself with hedge clippers to avoid the chemical treatment.

“To me, the big issue is that I didn’t know it was happening,” Shaw said.

Notifying the public optional

The power company and the town disagree on how much notice was given before the spraying.

But under Maine law, the company isn’t required to give any notice at all, according to John Bott, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which oversees the Maine Board of Pesticides Control.

Neither the power company nor the division of Lucas Tree Experts that performs the work have any issues pending or on file with the board, Bott said.

“There is no public notification requirement on a public way,” Bott said. “There is for lawns, and outdoor structures, and ornamental plants, and aerial spraying.”

Gail Rice, a spokeswoman for Central Maine Power, said the company voluntarily notifies people to address potential concerns about herbicides and losing shade trees near their homes.

One way the company gets the word out is by sending annual mailings to each town, city and county in its service area, regardless of whether work is planned. Towns are given posters describing the program for display in the town office.

“Whenever we are going to do work in a municipality, we give that town notice,” she said.
Oakland Town Manager Peter Nielsen said he didn’t get a notification of the work being done alongside the walking trail this year.

“I don’t think there was a letter sent,” Nielsen said. “I try to keep them, and I just checked in my folder.”
Rice suggested that if Oakland didn’t receive the letter, it could have been a problem with the postal delivery.

The power company’s customers are also told about the program through annual notices in bill inserts, and through monthly bill messages, which mention the herbicides.

Advertisements in local newspapers do not generally mention herbicides. For instance, a May 29 ad in the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal says tree pruning will happen in 2013 — with no mention of herbicide use — and says the pruning will occur in Gardiner, Pittston, Dresden, Richmond, Whitefield, Chelsea, Randolph, Readfield, Fayette, Mount Vernon, Chesterville, Vienna, Belgrade, Oakland, Mercer, New Sharon, Pittsfield and Rome.

(Continued on page 2)

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