Co-op acknowledges 'inadvertently' violating no-spray policy

Friday, August 8, 2014
A photo from Meg Mauro's tenant shows a dead tree and other dead vegetation after Carroll Electric sprayed herbicides on a property that was on the "no spray" list. Mauro said there are several dead trees that are not in the right-of-way and that they likely died because of wind drift that carried the herbicide to them. (Submitted photo)

NEWTON COUNTY -- The matter might have died quietly had a Carroll Electric employee not allegedly asked an upset property owner not to go to the press.

But Meg Mauro did just that after her property in Marble Falls was sprayed with herbicides by the electric cooperative corporation, even though her land is properly listed on the "no spray" list. Mauro said she put her property on the list when Carroll Electric instituted it in 2010 in response to property owners concerned about the use of herbicides and who wished to have the utility keep their rights-of-way cleared manually.

Mauro owns two properties in Newton County; she rents out the 12-acre Marble Falls property to a tenant, who is growing an organic garden. Mauro said her tenant contacted her about a week after Carroll Electric had come through and sprayed herbicides on the right-of-way.

"My tenant sent me a video showing all the destruction, and even up in the trees, and the leaves were dying," she said. "It happened July 17, but I didn't find out about it for a week after that."

She said the spraying was "quite a big swath through my property," and killed oaks, elms and other trees that were not in the right-of-way.

"I need to find a landscaper to tell me how much it would cost to replace them," Mauro said. "They weren't in the right-of-way, and it was branches hanging over that were dead."

She said she called Carroll Electric, and Neil Rushing and a co-worker with the vegetation management department came out to talk to her.

"They said 'yeah, we messed up' and said 'we want to make it right; how about if we plant a few trees?' I said 'no, this is not near good enough,' " Mauro said.

She said the right-of-way is close to where the tenant lives. The spraying occurred when the tenant was not home.

"They sprayed 20 feet from his organic garden. It's not certified, but he wants to eat healthy, and they sprayed really close," Mauro said.

Her other property is in Parthenon, Ark., also in Newton County, Mauro said. She said four years ago she turned in paperwork to have that property on the "no spray" list, but had broken her back and missed the deadline by two days. Carroll Electric sprayed 30 feet across the road from her, on property that was not hers, but it was close to her well. When she called, Rushing came out at the time, walked the property with her, and told her the cooperative would not spray there again, and it hasn't.

Rushing did not return a phone call as of press time, but Nancy Plagge, spokeswoman for Carroll Electric, confirmed the cooperative "did inadvertently spray on her property, and we have been in contact with her to make a restitution."

Plagge added, "She has not given us any direction as to how she wants it resolved, so we are in waiting mode with her. We will work with her to come to a resolution."

Mauro said she is still exploring her options, but was not happy at being asked not to go the press, calling it "bullying" and "sweep us under the rug behavior."

"It's like [the rest of] corporate America, where all the big businesses have the power, but somehow if we're going to survive, that has to change."

She said she is motivated by concern for the environment and wants herbicide spraying to stop and for the utilities to "act responsibly."

Plagge said Carroll Electric is still investigating how the error occurred. The co-op has only had one other error like this, Plagge said

"I think it speaks well of our program that we have had so very few errors made since we started out this program," she said. "We come out and meet with landowners and physically mark the spans so the crews will know where to stop and start. We come back and do mapping on our system with the best information we have available to us, and those maps are provided to the contractors."

She said spraying only occurs during daylight, not in the middle of the night, as some rumors have circulated.

In 2011, Kathy Turner filed suit against Carroll Electric for spraying herbicides on her land after she had informed the co-op she had a certified organic farm and her property boundaries were made clear to Carroll Electric and Progressive Solutions, the herbicide contractor. As a result, she lost her organic certification for three years and asked for damages for economic harm.

The suit was later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Turner said later she negotiated a protection strategy with Carroll Electric and hasn't had any problems since.

Carroll Electric has an elaborate process for property owners to exempt their rights-of-way from herbicide spraying.

The process involves obtaining an application form from Carroll Electric, which must be filled out, notarized and accompanied by a copy of the landowner's deed and driver's license, passport or some form of government-issued ID.

Those who rent property and don't want it sprayed must get their landowners to go through this process.

Caden Pruitt, who rents property in the Dry Fork Creek area in southern Carroll County, said she didn't realize the process she would have to go through to get on the no-spray list. She has a big garden and is an apprentice organic gardener. She said when Carroll Electric came out to hook up her electric last year, she asked to be on the "no spray" list and signed her name and address on a clipboard. She was then handed a packet.

"We didn't pay any attention to the packet. I assumed I was on [the list] because I had signed the clipboard," she said. "But to actually get on the list, we would have had to go through a lot of work."

Pruitt said her landlady is elderly and lives in Missouri, so it would probably not be practical to "jump through the hoops."

However, Pruitt said, Carroll Electric workers were "very nice," stopped spraying on her request, and someone did come out the next day to talk with her.

"They haven't sprayed since," she said, and although she realizes she is not "technically" on the list, she hasn't seen any spraying this year. She said she hasn't noticed any detrimental effects to her garden from the spraying that was done, mainly on the road.

Forms filled out in 2010 and thereafter expire Jan. 1, 2016, after which Carroll Electric will require new forms for the next six-year cycle. To avoid spraying during any current year, forms must be filled out by March 15.

Procedures for getting on the "no spray" list are outlined every year in the December issue of the cooperative's magazine, "Arkansas Living," and property owners can call the co-op for more information.

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