Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Welllfleet Selectmen Hold Meeting on Use of Herbicides

Yesterday Sven and I went to Duck Harbor, a beach we have not walked in months and months. I feel very close to nature in this beautiful place, with the wind whipping both grasses and waves. Then, in the evening, I attended the Selectmen’s meeting at the library, which will be the main report for today, illustrated with Duck-Harbor photos. It was, in fact, a joint public meeting with the Board of Water Commissioners, the Board of Health, and the Conservation Commission. On the agenda, under New Business I was delighted to find “Preliminary discussion … to consider a response to the use of herbicides in the Town of Wellfleet. Possible responses include, 1.) Adopting municipal policies governing the pesticide use on municipally owned land, 2.) Providing community outreach and education about pesticide use, 3.) Exploring options for clearing vegetation along NStar rights of way.”

If you have been following this blog, you know NStar has agreed to delay their plan to spray up to four herbicides until June 2010. You also are aware that the Selectmen voted at their last meeting to create a bylaw to prohibit pesticide use in Wellfleet. Turns out state law would preempt any such bylaw. “We simply can’t do it,” Ira Wood explained sadly. He also said NStar was not willing to make deals with individual property owners along the power lines, as had been the case in the past. However, NStar will provide “criteria” for the amount of trimming they would require.

Ira suggested community outreach and education, perhaps the creation of a committee to accomplish this goal. Grants exist, he said. “Plainfield received funding for herbicide-free power lines.” (For more information, see this document from the Horsley Witten Group, Sustainable Environmental Solutions, January 2007.) Ira also read a letter from the Department of the Interior to NStar requesting that a specific herbicide not be used on hot days, which would create a more nefarious local environment in the Seashore. This produced general snickering from the audience, two dozen citizens all adamantly against the use of herbicides under any circumstances. I said, “One of the herbicides NStar wants to use is called Accord. Accord has a great-sounding name: world peace and harmony comes to mind. Actually, glyphosate is a known carcinogen, a neurotoxin, an irritant, and can cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage. In recent news, glyphosate has been identified as a common chemical found in acute agricultural worker poisonings and has been linked to intersex frogs.” (The more you dig, the more depressing this story becomes.)

The Town Administrator told us there were 100 properties along the right of way in Wellfleet. Some belong to the town. The Seashore owns 40%. Terry Gips, of the Conservation Commission, raised the issue of living on a sandbar and the fact herbicides end up in our water supply, which caused Dale Donovan to mention the Cape Cod Commission, created based on the concept that the Cape is special and should be given special treatment. Terry pointed out that the percentage of land covered by power lines is higher here than in most other places.

I asked why must Wellfleet organize by itself? Wouldn’t it be better to join forces with other Cape towns to oppose NStar? Celeste Makley waved a copy of Mother Earth News, with an article about the disappearance of bees. She said the Organic Gardeners’ new community garden, near the power lines, is in jeopardy. Someone suggested goats be used, rather than chemicals, as in California and New Hampshire. (Anyone looking for an excellent small business opportunity?)

The meeting concluded with Ira’s suggestion that neighbors be helped to gain an understanding that there are alternatives to pesticide use. He asked the Town Administrator to request those “criteria” guidelines from NStar, which will be posted on the town Web site. Finally, it was decided a meeting should be organized with the Cape Cod Commission, inviting boards from neighboring towns to participate.

Most of the people in the room left at the end of this first half of the meeting. Those of us concerned about the spraying of herbicides, which will seep into our sole source aquifer, congregated in the hallway, and exchanged further ideas and email addresses. The general feeling was disappointment. Unfortunately, a certain member of the Board of Health seems to advocate a neutral stance and reminded us all what a good job NStar did restoring power after the freak storm in December. June 2010 will be here in no time. The Selectmen did listen and offered some options, but we were hoping for greater leadership on this important issue …