Following a four-year voluntary susp ension of its Integrated Vegetation Management program on Cape Cod, NSTAR will resume this fall the targeted application of approved, environmentally sensitive herbicides as part of its comprehensive right-of-way maintenance program. The company’s IVM program, the same as those used all over the country, is considered to be best practice by environmental experts and utilities nationally.
“We suspended our use of herbicides on Cape Cod so we could listen and respond to local concerns about the program, and work cooperatively to address those concerns,” said Steve Sullivan, vice president of Operations Services for Northeast Utilities, NSTAR’ s parent company. “In the meantime, we’ve had to exclusively rely on less effective mechanical methods in order to protect electric service reliability on the Cape. An Integrated Vegetation Management program is a much more sustainable practice, as it does not rely on the repeated mowing down of everything growing within a right-of-way.”
Hundreds-of-thousands of customers on Cape Cod and beyond depend on the high-voltage power lines that run along NSTAR’s rights-of-way. Effective maintenance of these rights-of-way by systematically preventing the re-growth of incompatible trees and vegetation is a crucial part of the company’s plan to continue to deliver reliable electric service. For about two weeks starting in early fall, trained applicators wearing backpacks will walk rights-of-way on Cape Cod and hand-spray individual plants with herbicides that have been approved as safe by EPA and the state Department of Agricultural Resources. This small crew of trained applicators will identify the specific species of plants that are incompatible with utility rights-of-way, spraying only those plants with just enough product to control them.
On Cape Cod, some people raised concerns about NSTAR’s IVM program because of what is known as a sole source aquifer. Respecting that concern, the company did much research on the aquifer and found testing done on wells on the Cape have turned up the presence of septic system and pharmaceutical contamination – but none from the use of herbicides. During NSTAR’s voluntary moratorium, even while herbicide use by others on the Cape continued unabated, a state environmental study estimated the company’s heavily regulated IVM program amounts to only half-of-one-percent of all herbicide use on Cape Cod. Seventy-nine percent of use is unregulated application by homeowners; with the remainder used by golf courses, railroads, cranberry bogs and communities themselves.
NSTAR representatives are personally contacting each Cape Cod community scheduled to be part of the company’s IVM program this year. Those communities are: Barnstable, Bourne, Brewster, Chatham, Falmouth, Harwich, Orleans and Sandwich. Each community will also receive notification by mail of the company’s Yearly Operational Plan, which outlines the work to be done.