Driven along Whitfield Road just outside of town limits lately? If so, you’ve probably noticed the large swath of rusty brown dead trees under the powerlines. You don’t have to drive outside of Town, however, to see that Duke Energy has apparently been getting rid of trees underneath powerlines by use of herbicides. According to current federal law trees must be kept clear of transmission lines, but how these power companies choose to keep the trees clear is a matter of concern. In certain sections of Chapel Hill’s Parkside neighborhood, in particular, rusty brown dead trees are within feet of people’s homes. What kind of herbicide is being used? How much? Is it harmful to humans and animals? What are the stormwater runoff implications? I know the Town is very careful in its own use of weed control and herbicides and we have strict guidelines that we use. What is Duke Energy doing on their easements within town limits? How often must they use the herbicide?
According to the Duke Energy website, “In the Carolinas, herbicide treatments are performed on vegetation when it is still very small, such as after the rights of way has been mowed and the root systems of the brush have had a chance to resprout. A follow-up treatment is applied in order to control any of the brush that might have been missed on the initial treatment. This will allow the compatible vegetation to effectively grow in the rights of way. Herbicide treatments are applied across the width of the rights of way. Tree pruning occurs on trees along the sides. Any mature trees found within the rights of way are also either removed or pruned.” Herbicide is being placed on trees that are several feet tall all along the right of way on the outside and within, mature and small. Take a look for yourself. Drive along Weaver Dairy Extension and look at the swath of trees under the powerlines midway along the road. The website also lists a myriad of herbicides they use claiming they are environmentally friendly.
The town did address a citizen petition back in 2002 with the issue of herbicides and easements. Duke Energy’s Scott Gardner emailed the Town with the following:
“Regarding the issue of prohibiting the use of herbicides in utility easements, we believe the town has the right to prohibit the use of herbicides on town property if they so desire, but would be pre-empting State law to attempt to prohibit the use of herbicides on private property in Chapel Hill. Our annual mailing to customers informing them of our use of herbicides and their right to request that none be used on their property is in compliance with State law and has been approved by the NC Pesticide Board.”
A phone call in to Duke Energy today had the following result: I was directed to the website and was informed of their FAQ section where decisions were whether to prune or use herbicide (referenced above). The woman (Ms. Jackson) stated that mature trees are probably succumbing to beetles, etc. because the herbicide would not kill such large trees. (Please drive along Weaver Dairy and look for yourself. This is no beetle infestation.) I asked her if I had the right to tell Duke Energy not to place herbicide near my home, and she said “no” I did not have that right. I thanked her for helping me to the extent that she could.
I have personally not received an annual mailing from Duke Energy, but maybe they don’t do those anymore due to a beefed up customer service website. My opinion: the use of large amounts of herbicide by Duke Energy near homes, (it must be a lot of it to kill such large trees!) is a questionable practice worth exploring further. I’m sure they have their own reasons. Placing herbicides may be their right, but it is not right to potentially negatively affect the health of our citizens. What impact does this herbicide have on our water quality and what other negative health effects are possible for animals or humans living near the treatments? I also want to make sure they’re discouraged from killing off large trees with herbicide—especially on the outsides of their easement—because it surely must take a greater quantity or concentration. They should live up to what they put on their website. Stay tuned.