LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Concern is sprouting in Little Rock’s Oak Forest community where neighbors say Entergy crews over-sprayed herbicide killing hundreds of trees and plants.
Neighbors brought their concern to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Plant Board, which is now investigating.
State and local laws allow utility crews to spray herbicide along power lines to prevent trees and plants from growing into the equipment. Utilities aren’t required to tell anyone in the area unless crews have to go on someone’s property.
Entergy says in this case the work was done in alleys so neighbors were not notified.
“All this spray was around me and I didn’t know,” said Gary Iverson, who lives in Oak Forrest.
Iverson says he never knew the herbicide was going to be sprayed and he believes it put his safety on the line.
“There’s no excuse for it,” Iverson said. “They come through here in two minutes and kill everything that takes years to grow.”
Entergy contractors sprayed the herbicide at the end of July, and within a few days, most alleys in the neighborhood were full of dead trees and brush.
Iverson says his backyard was in the path and his dogs were outside and at risk because he never got a warning.
“They were barking at the fence,” Iverson said. “At the time they were down here barking they were down here spraying. My dogs, they were covered in the spray and they had a waxy film on them.”
Iverson calls what happened in his neighborhood overkill.
“The power line is 30 feet up on the other side of the alley,” he said.
He pointed out multiple spots he says the herbicide reached that are too close for comfort.
“Right here my neighbor has a swimming pool where his kids come out to play. It’s right next to the back fence where all the trees have been sprayed,” he added.
Spots along the power lines fall in the utility’s right-of-way, and Entergy calls herbicides an effective solution to keep plants from growing into the lines which can cause outages.
“It’s safer and more cost-effective,” said Robert White, who oversees Entergy’s tree trimming and spraying programs.
White met us in Oak Forest and says what he saw down the alleys doesn’t cross any lines.
“This oak that was targeted,” White said pointing out a dead tree. “It’s eventually going to get large and get up in the lines and we’ll start having to trim it.”
He agreed the result looks dramatic but says most areas only get treated about every four years and for the utility, it’s a better option than cutting.
“It’s also safer for our tree trimmers. We have a ton of tree trimmers out there and every time you put someone up in a tree or on the ground cutting there’s opportunity for someone to get hurt,” White said.
Then there’s the question of what was sprayed. Entergy says its mix of chemicals are approved by both the EPA and the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, but the list includes one chemical that’s sparked controversy, glyphosate.
“It’s a poison I don’t believe it should be spayed en masse,” Iverson said.
Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides. However, more than 100,000 people have sued Bayer, the company that makes it, claiming they got cancer after being exposed to the chemical. In June, Bayer agreed to pay almost $11 billion to settle those cases.
So we asked the state if that changes anything here.
“No, we have not had any discussion of further regulating that,” said Scott Bray, Director of the Arkansas Plant Board. “We have over 14,000 pesticide products registered in the state. They choose their product but they are obligated to follow that products label requirements.”
Bray says his office will investigate any claims of misuse, something he says has come up with utility companies.
“It is a violation of most all labels and certainly state regulations to get that over-spray or that drift,” Bray said.
He says the Plant Board is looking at what happened in Oak Forest.
Records from the Department of Agriculture show so far this year it received 456 complaints about commercial herbicide use, two of those involve Entergy.
According to the state, in the past five years, Entergy has been the center of 11 complaints, none it was cited for to date. Those numbers may not show the full picture since the utility hires contract workers and the state doesn’t track complaints or violations involving them.
Still Bray says most complaints come down to right-of-way laws that draw a fine line.
“Those easements are more likely to connect to or bump up to private property, people’s yards, where kids play so yes I would think an extra level of precaution should be made when you’re in those populated areas,” he added.
Precaution Iverson wishes he could have taken but instead says he was left with no choice.
“I don’t think anyone should be allowed to go through a public alley and spray herbicide at their will,” Iverson said.
While his neighborhood is already paying the price, Iverson says it’s time to shed light on a problem that shouldn’t be overlooked.
“It’s putting human lives at danger, it’s putting animal lives at danger and it’s putting plants at danger,” he said.
Entergy says in cases where crews have to go onto someone’s property the utility will put out a robocall or use door hangers.
We reached out to Little Rock’s Board of Directors to see if the city is considering a policy change.
Joan Adcock says it’s something the board could take up if citizens make complaints. She says at this point, no complaints have been brought to her, or the board.
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