Conway seeks meeting with Eversource over herbicide kill of American bittersweet plants

  • A new sign installed by Eversource where its utility lines cross Bardwells Ferry Road in Conway. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A new sign installed by Eversource where its utility lines cross Bardwells Ferry Road in Conway. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/6/2022 5:08:04 PM
Modified: 1/6/2022 5:07:23 PM

CONWAY — After discovering Eversource violated a Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and Management permit while performing maintenance on Bardwells Ferry Road in 2018, the Conway Selectboard issued a letter to the company Tuesday requesting a representative at a future meeting to answer questions about the incident.

While performing maintenance and upgrade work on overhead electrical equipment in 2018, Eversource’s use of herbicides “without adherence to the best management practices required” killed 30 American bittersweet plants and harmed six others, according to a MassWildlife permit issued to the company in 2020.

American bittersweet plants are designated by MassWildlife as a “threatened” species, but are often confused with Oriental bittersweet, which is an invasive species from northeast Asia. The two plants have similar looks — American bittersweet has orange capsules while Oriental bittersweet are yellow — are found in the same sites and “intertwine” as they grow, which can cause people to often confuse the plants with one another, according to a MassWildlife pamphlet.

In the wake of this discovery, the Selectboard is seeking answers from Eversource as to why the town had not heard of the violation and what new precautions the company will be taking.

Selectboard Chair Philip Kantor said a representative from the company had appeared before the Selectboard at a meeting in 2018, but no mention was made of the violation.

“When they came before the Selectboard … right at that time they were not following their permit,” Kantor said by phone. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the person that talked to us was well-meaning and did not intend to deceive the Selectboard. … It’s one thing to criticize the company, it’s another to criticize employees who are doing what they’re told.”

Tuesday’s letter comes on the heels of a Dec. 27 notice from Eversource communicating the company will conduct maintenance work on Bardwells Ferry Road in the near future, specifically “vegetation maintenance activities.”

Eversource spokesperson Priscilla Ress said this work is part of a “regular maintenance” cycle and no herbicide will be used.

“We have no plans to use herbicide in the town of Conway,” Ress said by phone.

Kantor said he found the 2018 violation when searching state records to check if anything was happening with the state or permits in the town of Conway.

“I periodically check the state database,” Kantor said. “And lo and behold, Eversource has been getting in all kinds of trouble for the work they’ve been doing in town.”

While some people might think Eversource killing plants in a 0.6-acre area is insignificant, Kantor said it is about holding companies accountable to the rules everyone must follow.

“On the one hand, they’re valued partners with us,” Kantor said. “You don’t want to really tar and feather them, but at the same time they have to play by the rules we do.

“If it was the town that violated an endangered species permit,” he added, “they would have been marching me out on television in handcuffs.”

Ress said the company will be readily available to answer any questions the town has as they have a great working relationship.

“Of course we’re available to provide any information,” Ress said.

As part of the 2020 permit, which expires in 2030, Eversource agreed to terms with MassWildlife that it will “provide a long-term net benefit to the conservation of American bittersweet impacted by the unauthorized work.” Those terms include botanical surveys within all of Eversource’s right-of-way properties, management of invasive species and the establishment of the survival of “at least 95 American bittersweet plants split between the project and site and other suitable sites under Eversource control within 10 years.”

Kantor said the town specifically asked for a representative “that knows everything” so the Selectboard can learn the full extent of what happened.

“What exactly did they do,” Kantor said about what information the town is seeking, “what can they tell us that we can be assured that this time, they will follow their own best practices and why didn’t they do it last time?”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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