Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Cape delegation members sponsor vegetation management legislation
Concern over proposed herbicide spraying by NStar prompts filing of legislation

Following Cape-wide concern over NStar’s proposed use of herbicides to control vegetation along the rights of way from one end of Cape Cod to the other, State Representatives Cleon H. Turner (D-Dennis), Sarah K. Peake (D-Provincetown), and Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket) filed legislation that would require any public utility proposing to use herbicides to control vegetation on rights of way to negotiate with any municipality that desires to eliminate the use of herbicides on the right of way.

Massachusetts House Docket 3587, which mirrors a Maine statute that amended the Maine Pesticide Control Act of 1975, states that a community can initiate negotiations with the public utility for mechanical removal of offending vegetation in that community rather than use chemicals. The legislation requires negotiations in good faith and arbitration in cases where parties are deadlocked or promises agreed to are not kept by one side or the other.

A potential negotiated agreement would be that the community would arrange for the work to be done and NStar would contribute at least the amount of money they would have spent using chemicals. Another possibility would be that NStar and the community would share both work and financial responsibilities. Though that could mean that the community might bear some additional expense, it would also mean that the groundwater would be better protected by lessening the amount of chemicals sprayed over the Cape’s single source aquifer.

“Clearly, such negotiations and agreements will require municipalities to step up and undertake some part of the cost or some part of the physical labor to mechanically remove vegetation from the rights of way, said Representative Turner. Turner also stated that “Cape towns and residents need to have much more serious discussions regarding eliminating the use of chemicals that have the potential of contaminating our drinking water.  Our hope has been that NStar would respect the sensitivity of the Cape Cod environment and not use chemicals.”

Representative Sarah Peake, an original sponsor of the bill said, “This bill is all about local control. It strengthens the hand of every town on the Cape.  I have been very frustrated that decisions regarding the use of herbicides rest almost exclusively with state and federal agencies.  This bill will give our Boards of Selectmen and Town Councilors negotiating power and the ability to say ‘no’ to herbicides.”

The proposed legislation includes an arbitration clause that will ensure all parties negotiate in good faith.

Senator Dan Wolf (D-Harwich), Representative Susan Gifford (R-Wareham), Representative David Vieira (R-Falmouth), Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich) and Representative Demetrius Atsalis (D-Barnstable) have also lent their support to the legislation.