With French Broad Electric Membership Corporation set to apply herbicides to the power-line corridor in Madison County, organic farmers in Spring Creek are asking why there isn’t more public input on the way the utility manages the rights-of-way through their farms and near local streams.
Julie Teneralli says she works hard to put more into her fields than what she takes out. She runs Dancing Doe Farm along Spring Creek in Madison County and says she’s just three months shy of the three-year commitment to chemical-free farming required of certified organic farms. But Teneralli recently learned that next month, French Broad will be applying herbicides to control vegetation in the power-line corridor that crosses her farm.
“Over the past week, suddenly all these people in Spring Creek are getting sprayed,” Teneralli reports, noting that the corridor passes immediately adjacent to her crop land.
“I called and said, ‘You’re going to put me out of business.’ I said I’d graze my animals in the power-line corridor, to maintain it [without chemicals]. But they said they’re making no exemptions,” she reports.
Teneralli sells summer vegetables and plant starts at the Asheville City Tailgate Market. She mentions plans to add heritage pastured pork to make her business sustainable year round. Along with the heritage swine, Teneralli was planning to graze dairy cattle in the pasture under the power line. But that plan would have to be scrapped if the herbicide application goes forward as planned.
A nearby farm in Spring Creek did manage to get an exemption from chemical application some years ago, according to Greg Fowler, District Manager at the French Broad EMC. But it’s not something the company wants to provide as a common practice, he notes.
Just up the road from Teneralli’s farm, Mountain Harvest Organics took advantage of an opportunity to delete a key provision of their rights-of-way agreement with the local power provider. That provision normally allows the utility to manage the corridor chemically — a much cheaper approach than mowing. The company needed to erect new poles on Mountain Harvest property; owner Carl Evans ended up with a revised agreement that keeps chemical sprays away from the farm he runs with his wife, Julie Mansfield.
Fowler remarks, “When we upgraded our power line from single-phase to three-phase, it got recorded with the register of deeds: no spraying in their rights-of-way.” But it’s not an exception the utility plans to practice elsewhere, and, he argues, it shouldn’t be necessary.
“Because we have so much surface water in our service territory, the contractor has chosen two chemicals that are deemed safe for use in and around water,” Fowler explains. The chemicals are applied manually by a contractor wearing a backpack and are deemed safe when used as directed on the manufacturer’s label, he insists. But he knows of no public-agency guidelines — typical for many similar industry activities — regarding their application by local utilities near crop plants, livestock or streams.
A company employee reportedly told Teneralli that the utility would be spraying the herbicide known as Arsenal, along with the generic version of Roundup. “He says they can spray it in the water and it’s safe. He says they’re coming next month, … but we were never notified,” she says. Meanwhile, Teneralli worries that contractors are not carefully trained and monitored; a neighbor’s blueberries were sprayed by a utility contractor last week, she reports.
“Like everything, it’s economics driven,” Fowler says. French Broad consumers want the lowest possible rates; the company is committed to keeping its costs low.
“We’re hoping to reduce our right-of-way costs by 25 percent over the next five years,” he says.