An exception is being made for the next two years with regard to a decades-old agreement precluding the use of herbicides in treating vegetation along Peters Township’s trail system.

Township council voted 4-3 on Dec. 21 to allow FirstEnergy Corp. to employ what company representatives termed “selective chemistry” in the mitigation of trees that threaten power lines. Opposing were council members Frank Arcuri, Monica Merrell and Gary Stiegel Jr.

Council received written comments from three residents expressing questions and concerns about the use of herbicides along the trail, according to assistant township manager Ryan Jeroski.

The township granted an easement 34 years ago to West Penn Power Co., now a FirstEnergy subsidiary, to run lines along the then-new Arrowhead Trail.

“Obviously, I think we can all agree that herbicides have come a long way since 1986, and we’re not talking about the same dangers that we would have dealt with in 1986,” Councilman Frank Kosir Jr. said.

FirstEnergy’s 2021 vegetation management program includes sections of the trail from its crossing of Sugar Camp Road northwest to the Bethel Park line. Peters Township maintains the portion known as the Arrowhead, in this case extending to Brush Run Road, while the remainder is under the auspices of the Montour Trail Council.

The most recent management took place in 2016, without the application of herbicides. Since then, invasive species of trees such as buckthorn, black walnut and tree-of-heaven have grown to heights that could pose problems for power lines and create the potential for outages, according to Marie Maiuro, FirstEnegry transmission utility forester.

Her colleague Jacob Fisher, transmission vegetation management supervisor, explained the request for herbicide use in the next round.

“We’re always going to be doing maintenance every five years. Our goal here, though, is to lessen our maintenance, but also lessen the impact to the trail,” he told Peters Township Council. “And that’s going to be a lot of time where we’re going to have to shut the trail down because of safety reasons.”

For 2021, his estimate is three to four weeks of work on the trail, which usually occurs between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays. Closures will take place from access point to access point.

The intent is to prevent the regrowth of trees so that future mitigation efforts would be considerably less disruptive and time-consuming.

“Just for herbicide application, a guy could go through in one day with a backpack, and really you wouldn’t have to close the trail,” Fisher said.

With council granting the herbicide request for the short term – the approval process must be repeated in the future – FirstEnergy’s plan is to remove 85 trees and then treat the ground beneath employing what is called a cut stubble application.

“Due to the density that’s there, we’re not going to be able to control all of the vegetation in one application. So we would like to come back in 2022 and just do a touch-up application,” Maiuro said.

The herbicides to be used are registered with the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, she said, and will be applied by licensed personnel.

“Out of all the pesticide classes, herbicides are going to be the least harmful to people,” she told council. “They work by interfering or interacting with the hormones that are only found in plants.”

Fisher referred to the applicable products as “selective chemistry,” explaining they control broadleaf plant species but allow grasses, wildflowers, ferns and other vegetation to regenerate.

In the meantime, Maiuro said the products are “formulated to stay where they’re put.

“If they washed away, they wouldn’t be doing the job that they’re put there to do,” she said. “So there’s no off-site migration. It’s not going to show up five miles away, or even 30 feet away, in somebody’s yard.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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