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Duke Energy plant-killing causes alarm

Does reliable power mean dead plants? — DeLand Vice Mayor Leigh Matusick snapped this photo near American Legion Orange Baker Post 187 on West Voorhis Avenue.  Brown, dead plants are visible along the side of the road — casualties of what Matusick calls overzealous herbicide spraying on the part of Duke Energy. The power company, for its part, says the spraying is necessary to protect its lines and prevent power outages. 

Does reliable power mean dead plants? — DeLand Vice Mayor Leigh Matusick snapped this photo near American Legion Orange Baker Post 187 on West Voorhis Avenue.  Brown, dead plants are visible along the side of the road — casualties of what Matusick calls overzealous herbicide spraying on the part of Duke Energy. The power company, for its part, says the spraying is necessary to protect its lines and prevent power outages. 

PHOTOS COURTESY LEIGH MATUSICK

A sad landscape — This scene, taken along East Beresford Avenue near the Alexandria Pointe development, shows dead foliage on the  ground. The city required the developer of the subdivision to have a landscape buffer — part of which is now dead, due to Duke Energy’s spraying of herbicide, according to DeLand Vice Mayor Leigh Matusick. 

A sad landscape — This scene, taken along East Beresford Avenue near the Alexandria Pointe development, shows dead foliage on the  ground. The city required the developer of the subdivision to have a landscape buffer — part of which is now dead, due to Duke Energy’s spraying of herbicide, according to DeLand Vice Mayor Leigh Matusick. 

Swaths of dead foliage alongside roads all over the DeLand area have at least one city commissioner and a number of residents alarmed.

Duke Energy said it’s just trying to kill foliage that might interfere with power delivery.

“Duke Energy is spraying this extra-strength chemical like Roundup, and as far as you can see, most of the trees and the bushes are not even going to get to the power lines,” DeLand Vice Mayor Leigh Matusick said, during the Aug. 7 meeting of the DeLand City Commission.

Matusick presented a slideshow of photos from several streets around DeLand, showing dead foliage lining the roads under power lines.

“What they’re doing — one, I don’t believe they asked for permission from the City of DeLand to spray,” she said. “I don’t think they need to, but if they have an easement and they’re coming to spray, they certainly should have to come clean up.”

Instead, she said, Duke Energy told her they prefer to let the dead, brown foliage “decay naturally.”

Matusick also expressed concern that the power company may be overspraying onto private property, killing the landscaping on homeowners’ lawns.

“You can see how low this stuff is. It’s never even going to reach the power lines,” she said. “I don’t know how deep the easement is for the power lines, but it looks like they’re overspraying into private property.”

City Manager Michael Pleus suggested writing a letter to Duke Energy, putting the city’s objections to the spraying on record.

“It may be that there’s no legal action we can take, but we can at least put it on record from a community-relations standpoint that this is not a practice we endorse,” Pleus said.

Matusick noted DeLand works hard to be a Tree City USA and to require landscaped buffers on development parcels.

“We work hard on design standards, and they spray and kill all of that,” she said.

The power company, on the other hand, said they’re required to remove foliage around their lines due to regulations.

“We do clear vegetation,” Duke Energy spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said. “We are required for regulatory purposes.”

Foliage near power lines and equipment can pose safety hazards and cause avoidable power outages, according to Gibbs. Duke Energy sprays herbicides to prevent outages from overgrowth near the company’s lines.

“Different herbicide treatments are used, including foliar, stump, stem and vine applications,” Gibbs said. “Many of our herbicides are similar to what homeowners use in their gardens and yards.”

She maintained that the herbicide applications have some benefits, including preventing sprouts from growing quickly and requiring repetitive mowing; resulting in the growth of favorable low-growing plants, such as grasses; and creating new plant communities that don't interfere with power lines and provide natural habitats that benefit wildlife.

Gibbs said the company doesn’t clean up the dead vegetation left behind by the spraying to avoid additional disruption to the community.

“Clearing the dead vegetation would cause a greater impact to our customers,” she said. “It would require heavy machinery, which would create an additional disturbance to the land.”

- Anthony DeFeo, anthony@beacononlinenews.com

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