Environmental Group Clears NSTAR Easements the Old-Fashioned Way

Laura Kelly, an organic gardener, is the founder of Protecting Our Cape Cod Aquifer, a group that meets weekly to hand prune vegetation under powerlines on Cape Cod.

Laura Kelly, an organic gardener, is the founder of Protecting Our Cape Cod Aquifer, a group that meets weekly to hand prune vegetation under powerlines on Cape Cod.

HARWICH – Laura Kelly of Eastham is a landscaper specializing in environmentally friendly methods of gardening, so it is no surprise that NSTAR’s use of herbicides has motivated her to get involved.

Kelly is founding member of the group, Protecting Our Cape Cod Aquifer (POCCA), and the group has been meeting weekly to clear power lines throughout the Cape using pruning shears.

The goal of POCCA, Kelly said, is to help educate people about the problem and potential solutions regarding water management. The group is lobbying for tighter controls over the use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer use on Cape Cod.

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“We have a utility that wants to use herbicides for vegetation overgrowth management along over 100 miles throughout Cape Cod, on the backbone of Cape Cod. It’s pretty much turned into a whole entire community not wanting this to happen. The community versus a utility,” she said.

In order to prove there are other ways to maintain the vegetation under NSTAR’s powerlines that would not be harmful to the Cape’s drinking water, POCCA has taken matters into its own hands, literally. The group is meeting under the powerlines and clearing the vegetation using hand tools.

A state law mandates NSTAR to be in control of its vegetation management. NSTAR chooses to use herbicides for the management. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) allows it, Kelly said.

Kelly said POCCA said each town should be able to decide how the power lines are cleared in their jurisdiction. Alternatives, she said, include hand-pruning.

Laura Kelly, a landscaper specializing in organic landscaping, poses among wildflowers. She is the founder of the group Protecting Our Cape Cod Aquifer.

Laura Kelly, a landscaper specializing in organic landscaping, poses among wildflowers. She is the founder of the group Protecting Our Cape Cod Aquifer.

“Local landscape companies could easily maintain vegetation like they do on other properties. Volunteers can go out and do it,” said Kelly, who works a landscaper specializing in organic landscaping. “You don’t even need machines. You can do it by hand.”

She said pruning by hand also eliminates the potential of gasoline spills.

She said the easement areas are full of natural beauty and wild habitats. “Our state flower, the May flower, grows there. It’s just neat to see the low bush blueberries, the cranberries, the wildlife, the turtles. It’s an amazing area that needs to be protected,” she said.

She said other communities even use goats to do the clearing. “There are so many opportunities and options that are successful. We would like to tap into some of those before using herbicides,” she said.

Last year, Kelly met with town leaders in all 15 Cape Cod towns and asked selectmen or, in Barnstable’s case, the town council, to write their own resolution to send to their state representatives about why they don’t want NSTAR to use herbicides for vegetation management. Fourteen out of 15 towns sent in the letters.

Kelly said she has been working to educate NSTAR and MDAR about the Cape’s concerns for the last five years. “They are great listeners, but they’re not hearing. This is where we live. We live above an aquifer and we should be treated differently,” she said.

The utility is not interested in trying other methods, she said., though acknowledging that they used to mow under the powerlines every seven years.  The utility determined, she said, that mowing was more damaging to the environment.

Kelly disagrees. “Which is more damaging? We don’t know because we’ve never used herbicides in this mass amount before.”

In the meantime, POCCA will continue to educate the public. Kelly said, “We’ve got to do whatever we can to protect our drinking water. Moving forward, we’re going to not let up, to keep up the pressure, keep educating, keep furthering our outreach and hope that the outcome will be better for the next generation so that they won’t have to do this.”