The Letcher Fiscal Court wants to require utility companies to give advance notice to property owners before weed-killing chemicals can be sprayed from the air.
The court voted 5-1 at its June meeting to authorize Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton to determine whether any state laws requiring prior notification of aerial spraying are now in effect and whether the county government has the right to adopt regulations of its own. District Magistrate Wayne Fleming introduced the motion calling for local control of aerial spraying after discussing the matter earlier in Monday’s meeting with 94th District State Rep. Leslie Combs. Fleming said he has received a large number of calls from citizens who are angry because utility rights of way on their property are being sprayed with defoliants without the property owners being notified. The EQT natural gas company is responsible for some of the spraying, Fleming said.
Fleming said the aerial spray drifts over to adjacent properties and has affected gardens and lawns. District Four Magistrate Keith Adams added that the defoliant has poisoned ponds and water sources as well.
Fleming’s motion calls for Hatton to research the matter and, should the county in fact have the regulatory power, draft an ordinance that would require advance notification of aerial spraying, limit the spray area and damage the chemicals cause, and impose fines or other penalties on any company that does not comply with the rules.
Fleming said under the new rules a utility or gas company would have to notify the public of its intention to spray chemicals by purchasing a legal notice in The Mountain Eagle, the county’s largest-circulating newspaper.
District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson cast the only no vote against the motion, saying he didn’t think the court should order Hatton to perform work.
Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he would speak to utility company officials and ask them to cooperate with the court on the spraying.
Hatton said he is unsure of the state laws regulating the activity, but knows that some state regulatory agency in Frankfort has rules that affect spraying. Hatton said he is also uncertain whether a county ordinance could overrule state law in this instance, but said he would be glad to research the matter and make a recommendation to the court.
Meanwhile, Fleming said gas companies told him and County Judge Pro-Tem Eddie Meade that citizens should call 606-433-2982 if they have been affected by spraying on gas company rights of way.
Fleming said the spraying brought back bad memories from his tour of duty in Vietnam, where the United States used the powerful defoliant Agent Orange to clear large sections of jungle. He said a large number of birth defects that affect the children of Vietnam veterans have been traced back to Agent Orange, as well as debilitating illnesses to the veterans themselves.
“They told us Agent Orange was safe in Vietnam, too,” said Fleming.
In another utility-related matter, Fleming told Rep. Combs he has received many complaints about exorbitant increases in power bills and said the added costs are listed as a fee to pay Kentucky Power to update its power plants. Fleming said he doesn’t believe Kentucky Power’s customers should have to pay the cost of the upgrades.
Combs said she intends to fight the add-on costs being imposed by power companies in the state legislature, but said she would need more allies in the General Assembly. Fleming said middle- and lower-income people should be represented on the Kentucky Public Service Commission. Combs said a plan to accomplish what Fleming is calling for passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives but failed in the Republican-controlled Senate.