Anyone driving through the north-western part of Stokes County will have likely noticed giant brown swaths of dead foliage in the power line right-of-ways cutting through the otherwise lush green summer mountain forests.
The “scars on the land,” as one resident called them on Facebook last week, are the result of a new right-of-way management program enacted by Surry-Yadkin EMC.
“We went into this with careful consideration,” said Surry-Yadkin EMC Right-of-Way Maintenance Coordinator Travis Bode. “It is something we have researched for several years and is a practice that is widely used in our industry. We did a lot of careful research and it is something we have done to be a service to our membership and the landowners.”
Bode said the company has begun using herbicides applied by contract staff licensed by the state who walk through the right-of-way with backpack containers and wands applying the spray to brush, saplings and vines. He said the company is using three main herbicides, Dow AgroSciences Milestone VM, Nufarm Polaris, and Dow Agrosciences Rodeo.
“These herbicides have similar plant-specific modes of action to control vegetation,” reads a description of the process on the Surry-Yadkin MC website. “Dow AgroSciences Rodeo and Nufarm Polaris both affect the plants’ ability to process amino acids, while Dow AgroSciences Milestone VM disrupts the plants metabolic growing process. A surfactant is used to reduce the surface tension of water so that it will not pool on the plants leaves, and a sticking agent is used to help the water-based herbicides stick to the leaves of the plant. The coloring agent is required by the State of North Carolina to show DOT personnel where we have sprayed when our rights-of-way overlap.”
Bode said the point of the spraying is to eliminate saplings, while leaving a healthy environment for wildlife and wildflowers.
“The over all benefits of this program are reduced operation costs, reduced service interruptions, the increase in the vital wildlife habitat and the enhanced property appearance,” he said. “It is brown right now, but the leaves will fall off in the fall and it will leave just the grasses and wildflowers. It will take away the nuisance and invasive species. This will allow the seed bed to flourish and allow the flowers and grasses to come up and transform the right-of-ways into a greenscape.”
Bode said the company would not spray any vegetation like blackberries that could be considered a food species.
A number of property owner in the Danbury are have expressed outrage at the new policy, noting that in many instances they had no idea it was happening until they saw the brown, dying plants.
John Hege said he has been battling the spraying for several weeks.
“I ran them off a week or so ago when they were coming up from Moore’s Springs Road,” he said in a Facebook post last week.”But it appears that they mounted a stealthy invasion from the west before I knew about it. I met the guys with back pack sprayers. They were cooperative and didn’t give me any trouble, but they spoke very little English. It makes me wonder whether the power company gave them any instruction or briefing on the safe use of the chemicals they are using. They did a wholesale spraying including grasses and shrubs that never had a chance of being a problem for the power lines.”
Johanna Stern, owner of the Singletree Gun and Ploughand the HammerStern Wilderness Preserve, said she was concerned about the impact the spraying was having on the county’s tourism industry.
“One of our guests was horrified,” she said. “They said it looked like Agent Orange and wondered if it was safe to be in the vicinity.
“We are all trying so hard to be a tourism destination,” she added. “First last year all of us in tourism spent our marketing budget on saying our river was ‘Clean and Clear’ due to Duke Energy’s coal ash mismanagement. Now we have to deal with this horrific image. Moore’s Spring Road is a scenic byway. Where are the entities that look out for us citizens?”
Stern also raised concerns that the herbicides had been sprayed into Cascade Creek.
“They coated Cascade Creek,” she said. “Bill Sparks researched the chemicals used and the Wildlife Commission advises to keep those off the riparian buffers 200 ft. optimum, 100 ft. minimum. They clearly sprayed in the creek.”
Bode said all of the chemicals were rated to be sprayed up to the edge of water areas and that the company’s policy was to use them in that manner.
He also said the company included an article on the plans in its members’ magazine and has a story about it posted on the company website and Facebook page, but he said the company does not notify property owners before coming onto their property to spray the right-of-ways.
He added that after the spraying this year, the company does not plan on spraying again for another three years.
Bode noted that the company would comply with landowner’s requests to not spray on their property if they notified Surry-Yadkin EMC.
“We are always willing to work with our folks,” he said. “If anyone has questions I will be happy to talk with them at anytime.”
He said he expects the company to complete its spraying activities in Stokes County within the next couple of weeks.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.