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Kent selectmen take on herbicides

KENT — Following a report by the town Tree Warden, the Board of Selectmen unanimously endorsed the efforts of the Housatonic Herbicide Working Group (HHWG) at a regular meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 22.

Bruce Bennett, who serves as the Tree Warden for both Kent and Cornwall, described for the selectmen the work of the HHWG and concerns about the herbicide spraying program of the Housatonic Railroad Company whose tracks pass through Kent. Concern centers on the potential for harmful chemicals leaching into groundwater and nearby waterways.

“There is a need to keep the brush down,” Bennett conceded, particularly along the railroad track beds, “but Cornwall has experienced decimation of surrounding trees, notably white pines.”

Bennett explained that the elaborate mixture of strong chemicals applied by railway company equipment is long-lasting by design for effectiveness, but the chemicals can migrate into the soil and travel to contaminate waterways including the Housatonic River. Both Kent and South Kent are in wetlands, he noted.

The water table in Kent is only 12 feet below the surface of the land in places, Bennett noted, and in some instances, residents’ wells are situated near the railroad track bed.

Bennett asked the Kent selectmen to join with other towns at risk in asking the railroad company to follow ecological controls in effect in Massachusetts, including monitoring areas that are most susceptible to herbicide damage. At present, Bennett reported, when the company sprays in Connecticut, they discontinue adherence to the Massachusetts controls.

At the state level, Bennett said that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has little control over this spraying program. Rather, it is the Department of Transportation (DOT) that has the authority. He noted that the town of Cornwall has worked with the DOT to limit spraying and to define local no-spray zones.

The long-term goal, Bennett said, is to create and enact a bill through the state Legislature to control herbicide spraying. That idea has the support of the Housatonic Valley Association and other organizations, Bennett noted, adding that Conservation Commissions in five other area towns traversed by tracks are being asked to join in supporting the efforts.

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