Eversource rep. explains destruction of American bittersweet plants in Conway

  • Eversource has put up this new sign where its utility lines cross Bardwells Ferry Road in Conway. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2022 2:45:40 PM

CONWAY — An Eversource representative spoke to the Selectboard Monday to explain the circumstances of a violated Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife permit in 2019 and to reassure town officials and residents about concerns around herbicide use as a whole.

The meeting came after the Selectboard requested a meeting with Eversource after discovering the company killed 30 American bittersweet plants and harmed six others while performing maintenance on Bardwells Ferry Road.

William Hayes Jr., an Eversource senior vegetation management supervisor, said the company has an extensive protocol for conducting work in areas with threatened and high-priority wildlife and plants. He said the crew accidentally killed the American bittersweets, which were intertwined with Oriental bittersweet plants.

“Despite all that, we did apply (herbicide to) the American bittersweet plants,” Hayes said. “The crew made a mistake by spraying that area; they just didn’t read it and retain it.”

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.

Hayes said the company is holding itself accountable and it worked with MassWildlife in 2020 by establishing at least 90 American bittersweet plants in the Conway site and other sites in the region, as well as putting up additional signs to alert Eversource employees that they must call a supervisor to confirm what threatened species are in the area. He added they are “good environmental stewards” and are working to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“Just because we’re a utility doesn’t mean we can do what we please in your town or in the state,” Hayes said. “We did make a serious mistake here. … It’s regulated and we need to comply.”

Selectboard Chair Philip Kantor thanked Eversource and Hayes for attending Monday’s meeting and said the American bittersweet kill was significant, but asked for reassurance about the use of all herbicides in town.

“I know from the Conway residents’ point of view, the emphasis is just the herbicide application in general,” Kantor said. “In my years on the Selectboard, there have been few issues that got as (many) emails and letters from residents as when Eversource announces that they’re going to be spraying.”

He said he also wanted to reassure that the one mistake committed a few years ago doesn’t apply to every single crew working in town.

“When we read something that says you didn’t follow best practices on herbicide application,” Kantor said, “people extrapolate that to the contractor truck driving in front of their house and they wonder. … That’s what the residential concern really is.”

Hayes said Eversource’s herbicide is dispersed in a controlled manner and is always under analysis by the company. He noted Eversource creates its own environmental protection program and is licensed.

“We want to do the best environmental practices out there,” he said. “Using glyphosate — folks know that as Roundup or other trade names — that is a core product within our herbicide tank mix.

“That doesn’t diminish people’s concerns about herbicides, so we’ve look at that as a company, quite seriously, for a period of time,” Hayes continued. “We happened to use herbicides in this case. It was a matter of identification, it wasn’t a matter or an issue of the product having some other environmental problem.”

The Selectboard requested to speak to Eversource after the company sent a letter Dec. 27 communicating that the company will conduct maintenance work on Bardwells Ferry Road in the near future, specifically “vegetation maintenance activities.”

Kantor once again thanked Eversource for attending the meeting and noted he feels a bit more reassured about the company doing work in town.

“From my perspective, all you can really hope for when there’s a large institution like Eversource is that there’s somewhere in that, a human being that cares about your concerns,” Kantor said. “I think we heard from one such person tonight, so I feel a little bit better.”

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


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