2015-05-22 / Community

Voters to decide on herbicide use along power lines

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — It comes down to this: Central Maine Power (CMP) is willing to set aside the herbicides and clear its power line corridor by hand, but only if a town pays it to do so.

“It is more expensive for us to clear it that way,” CMP spokesman Gail Rice said on Monday. “It’s really not fair for us to spread that cost out among all of our customers when only one town gets a perceived benefit from having it done that way.”

Currently, Rice said, only the town of Lebanon pays to assure CMP clears the power line corridor through its borders by hand. However, Kennebunk could become the second to pony up for that service following a June 9 town referendum vote.

A question on the ballot will ask voters if they are willing to raise $12,041 to assure CMP clears the power corridor through Kennebunk by hand.

If votes approve that article, it will authorize selectmen to enter into a four year contract with CMP, for $12,041 each year.

“I think it’s very important to know, we’re making a fouryear commitment,” Selectman Albert Searles said at an April 14 board meeting. “I don’t want to confuse voters into thinking next year they are going to vote on it again, and then someone will come to us and say we didn’t vote on this and you went ahead and spent the money anyway.”

Although the $12,041 item would not appear on future warrants, being folded at that point into the town’s annual operating budget, Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said selectmen could always vote to defund the line item at any point.

That, too, could be important to know, as a majority of selectmen voted to recommend residents reject the article. The town’s budget board also came out against the article, by a 2-3 vote at the April 14 selectmen’s meeting.

One person definitely in favor of paying for the added CMP work, however, is Nick Branchina, a member of the Kennebunk Conservation and Open Space Planning Commission.

Branchina is scheduled to make a presentation at the May 26 selectmen’s meeting, on why voters should support the proposed contract.

“I walk a thin line between sounding like an alarmist and bringing facts to the town’s attention,” he said on Monday, May 18.

Branchina, who has served on the commission for seven of his eight years as a Kennebunk resident, says the group began talking to CMP “about a year ago” after learning about the state law that compels the power company to clear its transmission corridor without using herbicides if a municipality is willing to cover the cost. That same law also mandates that CMP let abutting landowners clear the line adjacent to their property by hand, if they do the work.

The Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells Water District does just that near its property along Branch Brook, Branchina said, touting it as evidence that someone, at least, shares his concern.

Of course, it could be said one entity sharing Branchina’s concern over pesticides is the town of Kennebunk itself. Although selectmen declined to support the article, Kennebunk did adopt a policy two years ago that bans the use of pesticides on town property, Branchina says.

According to Rice, CMP maintains 170 acres in Kennebunk. It does not use any pesticides, but, to keep the vegetation down, it uses the following three herbicides, the active ingredient of which is listed in parentheses: Rodeo (Glyphosate), Arsenal PowerLine (Imazapyr), Milestone (Aminopyralid).

“There are several reasons to note use these chemicals,”

Branchina said. “One is to prevent the negative effects upon the residents, specifically children who are more susceptible to the effects of pesticides and herbicides. Second is the negative impact on the environment, meaning the birds and animals, etc., and the last is the long-range cumulative effect, which can only be guessed at.”

According to Rice, CMP has used the herbicides in its line-clearing arsenal “for decades, at least.”

Branchina says the conservation commission began sampling wells in West Kennebunk a few years ago “in order to establish a baseline,” but does not yet have any data to prove the herbicides used by CMP have an ill effect.

“If somebody asked me the question, do you have the proof these chemicals would be harmful, well that kind of verification often takes time,” he said.

“There does not currently exist verifi- cation of the complications of spraying because it’s a cumulative effect over the years.”

Still, Branchina said, better safe than sorry.

“It’s kind of like smoking,” Branchina said. “Clearly, the issue becomes, do you wait to see what the negative effect is, or do you preclude the use of pesticides and herbicides. They aren’t a good thing, as evidenced by the manual clearing the water district does.”

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