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July 2, 1998
In October 1997, the coalition petitioned the North Carolina Pesticide Board to require utility companies to obtain permission from landowners to use herbicides on private property. The companies asserted that the easement agreements that allow utilities to maintain their rights-of-way made it unnecessary for them to seek any additional approvals. The Pesticide Board instructed the two sides to develop an alternative agreement that would satisfy all parties.
The resulting accord affects the way utilities maintain an estimated 75,000 miles of power line rights-of-way. As part of the agreement, at least once each year for the five year life of the agreement, power companies will include information in electric bills describing their spraying program and explaining how customers can ask for no chemicals to be used on their property. If people object to spraying, the companies will use alternatives such as chain saws and mowers.
Allen Spalt of the Agricultural Resources Center called the agreement "a great victory for the public's right-to-know." But he acknowledged that there are flaws. For example, companies are not required to notify residents exactly when and where they will spray. In addition, because it is a private agreement, state regulators cannot enforce it. "Provisions for enforcement are very weak, there's no doubt about that," Spalt said. "Implementation of this will depend on their goodwill and our vigilance in monitoring what goes on."
Highlights of the agreement include:
Notice: All customers of the utilities will receive notice of use of herbicides on rights of way through bill inserts. Utilities commit to providing further information, including pesticide labels and Material Safety Data Sheets, contact person and a web site.
Right of refusal: All people in the state, not just the petitioners, can now refuse to have herbicides sprayed on their property. The agreement also applies to contractors hired by the utilities and not just utility company employees. Utility companies also agreed that customers requesting alternative maintenance would not incur additional charges.
Posting: The agreement provides that customers who refuse herbicide use should post their easement with signs that will be made available by the utility company at no more than the cost of the signs. Posting should help field crews avoid spraying restricted areas.
Organic farms: The agreement provides for utilities to consult with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (the largest private certifier of organic farms in the Carolinas) and organic farmers about spraying practices that may jeopardize certification. The coalition hopes that this may provide an extra measure of protection for organic farms.
Sources: Agricultural Resources Center press release, June 9, 1998. Charlotte Observer, June 10, 1998. News & Observer, June 10, 1998. Chapel Hill Herald, June 12, 1998.
Contact: Agricultural Resources Center, 115 West Main Street, Carrboro, NC 27510; phone (919) 967-1886; fax (919) 933-4465; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site sunsite.unc.edu/arc/row.htm.
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