Cape Cod herbicide epidemic spurs County Commissioner Lyons to action
If Cape Codders are serious about keeping chemicals out of their groundwater, they must gird for a bigger battle than the one they have waged against NStar.
Country clubs that use weed-killers to maintain lush green golf courses, cranberry growers who apply chemicals to their crops, and — perhaps the biggest culprit of all — homeowners, all contribute to groundwater pollution, says Barnstable County Commissioner Sheila Lyons. Lyons, a resident of Wellfleet, announced last week that she has formed an ad hoc committee at the Assembly of Delegates to examine the problem.
“If we are going to have some sort of management of what goes into our groundwater, it’s going to be bigger than NStar,” Lyons told the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission on Nov. 15. She was referring to the controversy over the utility’s plans to spray herbicides on vegetation that is threatening to encroach on its rights-of-way. NStar has proposed a five-year vegetation management approach that would use five different types of poison to check undergrowth along 150 miles of power lines on the Cape.
The boards of selectmen in Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro have formally objected to NStar’s plan, as have local delegates to the state Legislature — and there has been no shortage of opposition from residents, either. The herbicide issue galvanized one group to organize “pruning parties” along the Wellfleet powerlines — the goal being to pre-empt the need to apply chemicals there by cutting back the vegetation — and it also prompted the formation of GreenCAPE (Cape Alliance for Pesticide Education) in July.
But the public is in for a rude awakening on Jan. 1, 2011, when the moratorium on spraying to which NStar agreed expires. “Come then, NStar will be writing letters saying they’re going to spray in the spring,” Lyons said.
If Cape residents are serious about pursuing the issue, she said, they must acknowledge that “many other people contribute to this problem, including the National Seashore, the county, golf courses, cranberry growers … and homeowners.” Homeowners are perhaps the most widespread source of contamination, as the pesticides and herbicides they pick up at the local garden supply store often contain more toxic carrying agents than the chemicals used by licensed herbicide applicators, such as the ones NStar would employ.
Those licensed herbicide applicators have to go through “more screening than if you were going to buy a gun,” Lyons said.
Lyons will chair the task force and has invited the Cape Cod Golf Course Superintendents’ Association, local cranberry growers and representatives from GreenCAPE to participate. She extended the invitation to the National Seashore and other interested parties last week.
The Seashore has been actively fighting invasive shrubbery at Fort Hill and has been working to restore a heath-like landscape in the Marconi area by eliminating the scrubby pines there. Seashore Supt. George Price claimed that most of the vegetation control at Fort Hill and the Marconi area has been accomplished through cutting and prescribed burns.
The park has applied herbicides to waterweeds in East Harbor, but “I wouldn’t say we’re a heavy user at all,” Price said.
Lyons’ initiative was nonetheless welcomed by members of the park’s advisory board, which includes delegates from Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro — the three towns that have registered their opposition to the NStar plan — and by chair Rich Delaney, who said the Cape would benefit from a more “comprehensive look” at the problem.