Chatham Joins Legal Battle Over Eversource Spraying

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Groundwater protection , Public Utilities

CHATHAM The board of selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday to pitch in $7,500 to support the legal battle to stop Eversource from spraying herbicides on power line right-of-ways on the Cape.

The board also voted to send a letter to the Barnstable county commissioners urging them to support the effort. The vote came several weeks after selectmen opted to send a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources urging them to oppose the utility's use of herbicides on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard.

With the vote, Chatham becomes the fifth town to join forces with the group Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer (POCCA), which is coordinating the legal effort.

POCCA President Laura Kelley came to the board last month to request a $15,000 contribution to help the group pay for an attorney and an ecotoxicologist to make the case that Eversource should abandon the use of herbicides because of the risk of contaminating the Cape's aquifer. Selectmen hesitated at the request, but Kelley returned to ask for a contribution of half the original amount. In its first meeting with newly elected Selectman Shareen Davis voting, the board voted unanimously to agree the expenditure.

Eversource uses a variety of chemical herbicides to control vegetation under high-tension wires on the Cape as part of a yearly operating plan filed with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Kelley said of the five chemicals being used this year, only one is available to consumers: the active ingredient of Roundup. 

Board member Jeffrey Dykens said he supports the request, though he is not entirely clear what the town will be getting in exchange for the $7,500 contribution. But he said he likes the idea of Chatham taking a leadership role in the legal fight.

Critics of POCCA's legal efforts note that there is no hard evidence that the herbicides have entered the groundwater. Such evidence would likely be collected only by the installation of monitoring wells along the power line right-of-ways.

“Our point is to not wait that long,” Kelley said.

Kelley said the town of Harwich declined to join the legal battle, noting that the pesticides used by Eversource's licensed contractors are approved by the EPA. But she argued that, particularly now, local municipalities need to take responsibility for their drinking water.

“Look at the EPA. Things are crumbling,” she said.