I have lived on Lake Street in Vineyard Haven for 25 years. A few years ago, I went to pick up my mail at the cluster box under the power lines and saw a crew of workers with chainsaws taking down a lovely grove of small trees that shaded the boxes. I called NStar and was told that they have a mandate from the federal government to keep the rights of way free from vegetation lest something fall on the power lines. Since the power lines are at least 50 feet off the ground, this scenario seemed very unlikely, insofar as the trees were no taller than 12 feet. They also told me they spray herbicides to keep the vegetation down.

A little research led me to GreenCape.org, a citizen organization that has protested against the spraying of these supposedly environmentally sensitive herbicides. Due to their activism in alerting people on the Cape to the fact that NStar is spraying Roundup, Rodeo, and Garlon 4 on these rights of way, NStar agreed to a four-year moratorium on spraying, which was lifted this fall.

They started spraying here in Tisbury on Wednesday, Nov. 20. Alerted by a neighbor on the right of way, I went down there and asked the workers what “environmentally sensitive herbicides” they were using. They told me it was Garlon 4. After checking the material data safety sheet on this product and the label, I found it clearly states that OSHA considers this a “hazardous chemical “and that it is “toxic to fish.” And this is being sprayed adjacent to Lake Tashmoo.

Evidently, our conservation commission gave them permission to spray this, as did our selectmen, as did the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). They had a public comment period that ran from August to Nov. 16, but since that is my high season, I was not aware of this. I called MDAR twice to ask what the public comments were. I have yet to hear from them. NStar is required to post a 48-hour notice to the public before they start spraying. They published this in the Cape Cod Times instead of either of our local papers of record. I have called the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (helpful), the conservation commission twice (no return call), our state representative, Tim Madden (“my hands are tied”), and one of the Tisbury selectmen (sympathetic, but in the minority). He said he doubted the other selectmen would be on board. Evidently, they gave the go-ahead to the town to spray herbicides on the Japanese Knotwood at the Tashmoo Overlook recently, in addition to green lighting the NStar program.

We have a single source aquifer here on Martha’s Vineyard, and I somehow can’t believe that spraying a hazardous chemical so close to our well head on West Spring street and adjacent to Lake Tashmoo is safe or healthy, although NStar says it’s just fine. This from the corporation that put up the giant electric poles on the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road without informing any of the affected towns.

NStar says the reason they use herbicides to kill the trees instead of mowing the rights of way is to “protect bird and animal habitats.” Really, NStar, really? Or could it be that mowing is more expensive? We know that honey bees and monarch butterflies are disappearing because of the toxins being sprayed on our food crops. And now, another giant corporation, NStar, is being allowed to spray a “hazardous chemical,” according to the label on the Garlon 4 herbicide itself. Really? They told us DDT and Agent Orange were safe, too. If it can kill trees, what can it do to us, to our children, to our environment?

Any thoughts on this?