Letter: Ask Duke Energy to stop chemical defoliation

Graphic by Lori Deaton

This fall, I was greatly distressed by the sudden appearance of large areas of dead vegetation along many sections of Pinners Cove Road (and Mills Gap, Sweeten Creek and other areas of town). And so have my wife and many neighbors. How about you?

It’s been months since Duke Energy defoliated our neighborhood, and yet every time I ride past the 100-yard section of deathly brown hillside approaching my house, I get angry all over again. Even though I thought the issue was resolved by contacting Duke with my concerns and notwithstanding many hours of spiritual reading, meditation, group support meetings and loving kindness affirmations.

In case you haven’t heard, Duke Energy no longer mows weeds alongside the road, clears undergrowth, trims a few tree limbs or cuts down an errant tulip tree sapling that threatens to grow into a power line. They are now spraying an herbicide that kills all plant life in the targeted area near electrical power lines.

It’s heartbreaking. We enjoy living in Asheville because of the ever-present trees, forests and beautiful plant life, surrounded by fellow citizens who share an Earth- and nature-friendly consciousness. We call it our Garden of Eden. Sadly, sections of the roadside now resemble regions of Dante’s “Inferno.” Driving home became no longer an exhilarating trip through a plush green paradise; instead it evoked flashes of Agent Orange-devastated jungle growth in Vietnam. I’ve been angry, sad and feel a sense of betrayal every time I drive to and from the house.

I feel betrayed because Duke emphasizes “its commitment to support the vitality of a healthy ecosystem.” Their web page headline boasts: “Company heightens vegetation management practices to protect endangered wildflower, threatened lizard in Marion County,” Florida. I would like Duke Energy to show the same support for Asheville and Buncombe County residents and our beautiful countryside.

Chemical defoliation creates an environmental eyesore that detracts from the natural beauty, which has gotten uglier and uglier week by week. Herbicide usage is aggressive and invasive. It’s disrespectful and demeaning to the area residents. I’m also concerned about contamination of our well water, erosion of the defoliated hillsides, increased fire hazard from ubiquitous areas of dead vegetation and the threat of the chemical agents to local wildlife.

I’m further upset because Duke Energy is not defoliating the roadsides and residential properties of Biltmore Forest; they are actively running power lines underground for the homeowners there. So if you can afford a million-dollar home, you will be treated respectfully and can still enjoy a plush, green neighborhood.

I encourage everyone to request that Duke Energy stop using chemical defoliants.

— Richard Kownacki
Pinners Cove resident

Editor’s note: Xpress contacted Duke Energy with a summary of the letter writer’s points and received a response from spokesperson Jeff Brooks, which said in part:

“To reduce and prevent outages, it’s important that Duke Energy maintains vegetation — especially in our transmission line easement areas, where an outage can affect an entire community. These main lines generally must remain overhead because of operational requirements.

“We are increasingly turning to herbicide applications to ensure longevity of our work and safety of our crews. These targeted, water-based treatments are safe for humans and animals and are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for our vegetation purposes — and they keep power lines clear of tall-growing plants while maintaining low-growing vegetation for wildlife habitats. These are many of the same products used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conservation organizations to control undesirable vegetation. This approach is recognized as an industry-best management practice by the International Society of Arboriculture. The products used in our herbicide applications are listed on our website.

“Although there may be browning of leaves after initial application, those leaves and stems will drop. During this transformational process, compatible vegetation such as grasses, weeds, wildflowers and other herbaceous growth can fill in areas once covered with brush — leading to a more self-sustaining state in the right of way.”


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17 thoughts on “Letter: Ask Duke Energy to stop chemical defoliation

  1. indy499

    I’m shocked your hours of spiritual reading didn’t solve this problem.

  2. Wayne C

    We have tried to get Duke to stop spraying their toxic spray mix in our subdivision, Fairview Forest. Instead of accepting the HOA request Duke has to have each individual homeowner sign a document in the presence of a Duke rep stating they do not want spraying on their individual property. Each resident is then given 2 graphic signs to put up along the road to identify their property borders. We have hundreds of property owners!! Also just what we want, more signs all over our community!

    I have observed the Duke spray crews, which are subcontractors, who do not where protective clothing and generally don’t speak or read English, hence the graphic signs without wording. Duke vegetative management is also hopelessly behind on tree trimming with a backlog of over 200 requests per my conservation with one of their subcontractors. It takes several months to get dead or leaning trees removed near power lines!

    • WNC

      Duke doesn’t have the ability to remove dangerous trees as quickly as needed. Maybe if we create a much larger work load by not spraying that will speed things up. I guess you want power in times of high wind, snow and ice also. Fairview Forrest is steep and hard to access in good weather.
      You make a strong case for continued spraying.

      • Wayne C

        Duke is not spraying trees at risk of falling on the power lines. They are spraying brush and small trees. Every 6 or 7 years they have crews come in and cut larger trees and branches.
        Duke would rather pay repair crews overtime for damage from downed trees than hire enough subcontractors to take out those trees during normal hours!!
        Why doesn’t Duke have the ability to remove dangerous trees as quickly as needed?? Please explain, WNC. Herbicides are also very expensive!!

        • WNC

          We all know you spray under growth to prevent young tree growth not to remove existing trees.

          • Wayne C

            WNC, again I ask you to explain why Duke does not have the ability to remove dangerous trees as needed?? I think you mean they are not willing to remove those trees with a low cost crew during regular hours, but would rather wait for those trees to fall on the wire and then pay a highly skilled and expensive crew to repair the power lines at all hours!! Makes perfect sense???

  3. Voirdire

    You know the honey bees can’t get enough of that yummy Duke herbicide (..better known back in the day as the systemic defoliant Agent Orange ;) ….just saying.

  4. c

    Duke’s response by its spokesman was helpful and informative. All products used by Duke are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency and approved by appropriate state agencies. Do we not trust the EPA to get this right?

    • Wayne C

      C, no I do not trust the EPA. They originally approved Round Up (active ingredient glyphosate) a powerful metal chelator which kills anything green and destroys the soil microbiome by tying up trace minerals. Every American now has glyphosate in their body where it is damaging our gut microbiome because of its heavy use. The results are cancers etc.

  5. Wayne C

    Indy499, choice is yours:
    A) Trust EPA
    B) Head up warm dark place
    C)Pay attention and follow the money

  6. Lisa Fitzpatrick

    My spirea bushes, my forsythia, peach tree and apple tree and 20 blueberry bushes all destroyed by Duke Energy. Nothing left but a wasteland and my property destroyed with potential erosion on my bank. Not to mention I worry my well is possibly contaminated. How can this be?? Do I have no rights as a property owner? I would gladly have them remove their power lines and relocate elsewhere and use an alternative power source. This has got to stop

  7. AB

    They sprayed very far around the electrical wires. There is a lot of death back there, 30 feet from the wire and never told me. I, and my pets, walk back there.


    Duke has turned my private road only access out of my home into a tinder box! The spray they used up & down my road wasn’t even near any wires in many spots where they killed plants! I have no control over clearing the hillside above my property because we don’t own it! If a fire starts is Duke coming to get me out???

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