Friday, November 13, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Residents may be able to reject herbicide

City Council approved contracts on Thursday with Asplundh Tree Expert, Davey Tree Surgery and Wright Tree Service to manage vegetation around Austin Energy lines after Council Member Ann Kitchen added some direction to staff about a previously unknown aspect of vegetation removal: the use of herbicides.

Kitchen said she had learned about the herbicide use from Karen Hadden, a member of the Electric Utility Commission. Hadden noted in a letter to Council that the contractors use an herbicide called Garlon 4, which kills fish and is not to be used around waterways, according to its label.

Hadden said Garlon 4 can also kill or damage vegetables and other plants, although the warning on the label refers only to fish and water. The label reads, “The use of this chemical in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow, may result in groundwater contamination.”

Kitchen asked City Manager Spencer Cronk whether it would be possible to allow residents who object to the use of herbicide on their property to opt out. Cronk turned the question over to Elton Richards, Austin Energy interim chief operating officer, who said when the utility negotiates the new contracts it will modify the door hangers to tell residents they may ask that the herbicide not be applied to their property.

Richards said Austin Energy spent $13 million last year on line clearance, with $51,000 of that spent on herbicides.

According to a staff description of the contracts, “The contractors will perform services on an as-needed basis for capital improvement projects; on circuit, grid and substation facilities; individual customer requests; after-hour or storm restoration events; and vegetation suppression. The work is highly specialized, and contractors will be required to follow strict safety protocols. The contractors will also work in partnership with the Austin Fire Department Wildfire Division to reduce the risk of wildfires.”

Each contract will run for up to five years, for a total of up to $85 million split between the three companies.

Kitchen also suggested that Council’s water committee look into the use of herbicides, but Council Member Paige Ellis, who chairs the committee, did not comment on the idea.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.

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