Electric Co-op meeting draws anti-herbicide crowd
Crowd isn't allowed to address board during short annual meeting
By Becky Gillette
BERRYVILLE -- About 150 people who came out to the Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp. (CECC) annual meeting May 28 to request the utility reduce or eliminate herbicide spraying on rights-of-way (ROW) found their pleas didn't fall on deaf ears. They fell on no ears at all.
The members weren't acknowledged by the President/CEO Rob Boaz or the board of directors or allowed to speak during the annual meeting. Members were left talking to each other instead of the people holding the reins of power.
"Many were surprised when the annual members meeting was abruptly adjourned and the board exited the room for its closed-door session," said Shawn Porter of Newton County, a representative for the group. "'Carroll Electric is here for its members' does not hold much water when the board and management failed to publicly acknowledge the presence of our group, or our reasons for attending."
CECC's annual meeting normally attracts as few as 10 members. But this year residents from several counties showed up in an attempt to voice concerns about the health effects of herbicide spraying.
While CECC did allow Porter to address the closed board meeting that followed the annual meeting, only two other members were allowed into the closed meeting. The press and other members of the cooperative were not allowed in to hear the discussion.
CECC says it is too late to do anything about herbicide spraying in 2009 because contracts are already in place.
"Our spraying program fits perfectly with our mission to provide safe, reliable, and affordable power," said Nancy Plagge, CECC director of corporate communications. "We have been reviewed by various state and federal entities and been found in compliance with our use and application. However, we understand the sensitive nature of using herbicides and will be reviewing the new information presented today by concerned members of the Cooperative." (See accompanying story.)
Plagge said while it is technically possible to maintain ROWs without utilizing herbicides, the cost to members would be two to three times higher.
"Cost is definitely the number one concern we hear," Plagge said.
However, representatives of the group said they have been denied records regarding the cost comparisons.
"After over a year of asking, members have yet to be given an accurate and objective accounting of the costs for ROW maintenance using manual/mechanical, and herbicides," Porter said. "While the numbers would be interesting, such accounting is not likely to show the hidden costs to people and the environment from the adverse effects of the herbicides. What is the cost for our children growing up healthy?"
Porter told Plagge that to say in their press release that 'Cost is definitely the number one concern we hear' leads to questions about what the utility does hear, and who it hears it from.
"People are clearly more concerned about protecting our water, health, gardens, bees, animals, children, and environment, than they are about seeing an extra dollar or two added to their monthly bills," Porter said.
Electric's Rob Boaz: 'We understand our responsibility'
(Ed. note: What follows is a press release issued by Carroll Electric following the annual and regular board meetings.)
Berryville -- Carroll Electric's annual meeting of members was held last Thursday. A group was present to express their opposition to the Cooperative's right-of-way management practices involving the use of herbicides.
President/CEO Rob Boaz, addressed the members by reporting on activities over the past year. "We have had a tremendous response from members about the restoration efforts made during the recent ice storm. I just can't say enough about our people -- I could not be more proud." Permanent repairs are expected to take another two to three years to complete.
Boaz complimented the board for their wisdom in constructing a new office and community room in Huntsville. "Not only is the community room a great addition to Madison County, restoration efforts during the ice storm would be hard to imagine without the new warehouse and office space."
Boaz announced the results of the director election during the meeting. Cooperative members reelected Kristy Noble of Berryville, to represent District 4 members on the Cooperative's board of directors. Ms. Noble ran without opposition, receiving 9,026 votes. She is the president of St. John's Hospital -- Berryville.
Pending legislation is the biggest challenge facing the Cooperative. A version of the Waxman-Markey bill has been passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. If it becomes law, the price of electricity will be tied directly to a new market that trades carbon dioxide allowances. It is expected the price of electricity will double with a "cap and trade" system.
"The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas made significant investments years ago into three hydroelectric facilities. Now, the powers that be, say we can't count hydro as a renewable resource." Boaz went on to explain other forms of renewable energy are not fully developed or dependable as a firm source of power.
Boaz did not address the Cooperative's use of herbicides. According to Nancy Plagge, Director of Corporate Communications, "Our spraying program fits perfectly with our mission to provide safe, reliable, and affordable power. We have been reviewed by various state and federal entities and been found in compliance with our use and application. However, we understand the sensitive nature of using herbicides and will be reviewing the new information presented today by concerned members of the Cooperative." Plagge pointed out the condition of the Cooperative's easements have never been better.
"While keeping them this way is technically possible without utilizing herbicides, the cost to members would be two to three times higher. Cost is definitely the number one concern we hear."
Following the member meeting, the board of directors heard concerns directly from Shawn Porter, who represented members opposed to the use of herbicides. According to Board Chairman Charles Burdine, "The board listened carefully to their concerns. We are taking everything in before a final decision is made. Commitments are already in place for 2009 contracts, preventing significant changes this year. However, the concerns over the notification letter have been noted for months and will be incorporated into the next mailing. We understand our responsibility to all 68,000 members of the Cooperative and will do our best to fulfill it."