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Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative Changes With The Times

Cindy Jenkins, a right-of-way (ROW) forester with Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative in Jackson, Ohio, spends a good portion of her time on vegetation management. Her job, however, entails much more than just managing weeds along utility ROWs.

The typical utility arborist has multiple responsibilities. Apart from managing an ongoing vegetation program for 2,600 miles of distribution lines, Jenkins works with the local community to notify landowners of impending vegetation work, helps maintain a safe environment for her work crews, and coordinates all activity within a strict annual budget.

When Jackson-area customers questioned spray treatments on their property and complained of browning vegetation following treatment, Jenkins and her crew modified their herbicide program to address community concerns. Today, a combination of effective herbicides and community education has brought both sides together in support of reliable energy.

Customer Communication – It Doesn't Stop at the Statement Stuffer

Establishing a positive connection with customers is important to Buckeye. As an electric co-op (a private independent utility owned by the members it serves), Buckeye needs the support of its members/owners. With their cooperation, ROW management can be completed in a safe and timely manner to maintain reliable electricity while saving money for the co-op and its customers.

“Some of the many acres of utility ROWs we manage cross private property,” Jenkins said. “Our crews would sometimes be approached by angry landowners who didn't understand why we were spraying. To educate them, we implemented a door-to-door policy to notify customers, and ensure that they were aware and comfortable with us being on their property before we arrived.”

Now, before Buckeye crews head out to work, Jenkins verifies that all community members along the route are notified in person about the work.

“If a customer doesn't want us on his or her property, we leave,” Jenkins said. “However, most of our customers accept the job we're doing and are thankful we notified them in person first.”
“We help the community understand the role vegetation management plays in delivering reliable electricity. We offer examples of how improperly managed vegetation can affect their service. This helps people make the connection,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins uses a recent ice storm as an example. Due to the weight of the ice, branches and full trees fell onto power lines, disrupting power for several weeks. Because much of Buckeye's service territory is in rural areas, it took weeks to bring the electrical system back up. Had vegetation been properly managed in all of these areas, some customers' service would never have been interrupted.

“We make sure our customers know what products we're using. This helps them realize we're not harming the environment — and actually are working to improve wildlife habitat,” Jenkins says.

Effective Vegetation Management Planning

Buckeye has always used herbicides in its vegetation management program to manage brush around power lines. Initially, the company used Tordon® K and Garlon® 4 herbicides, but customers expressed dissatisfaction with the appearance of treated plants, which instantly turned brown after spraying.

“Two or three days after spraying, everything was brown. People didn't like the way that looked,” Jenkins said. ”In fact, the plants browned so quickly, it seemed like the herbicide didn't have a chance to reach the plants' roots.”

In an effort to address these public concerns, Jenkins looked for alternative herbicides. In November 2005 she heard BASF Professional Vegetation Management (BetterVM) sales specialist Randy Denhart talking about Arsenal® herbicide at the Ohio Tree Care Industry trade show. She learned that Arsenal is designed for selective removal of vegetation without the immediate, unattractive browning caused by other herbicides.

“With Arsenal, we can spray a plant in June and it changes color during the fall season. Most people … are happy to see affected plants turn brown with the rest of the fall landscape.” — Cindy Jenkins

After consulting with Denhart, Jenkins tried combinations of Arsenal plus Escort® XP and Krenite® herbicides. Although she anticipated using 100 gallons of tank mix per acre, Jenkins was pleased to find she needed as little as 12 gallons per acre for some treatments. The new mix also was slightly less expensive than previous Tordon/Garlon applications.

“One of the reasons I put off using Arsenal and Krenite was because I thought it would be more expensive. The cost per unit does appear to be more, but our tank mix was actually cheaper by about $2 per mixed gallon,” Jenkins said.

This less expensive mix offered an additional benefit. One of Jenkins' goals is to encourage growth of native plants, brush and trees in and around the ROWs. Managing for each desirable species can be time-consuming with some herbicides, but one advantage of Arsenal is that it targets unwanted plants without disrupting native plant growth.

“With Arsenal, I don't eliminate every single species,” she said. “The tank mix only gets rid of unwanted vegetation, so native plants have a chance to come back and form a healthy mat on the ground.”

Work Crew Safety in a Challenging Landscape

Jenkins' new herbicide program also helps keep work crews out of danger. More than 50 percent of the areas where Jenkins' crews work are considered steep terrain, or 15 percent to 25 percent slope.

Steep utility ROWs present applicators with navigational challenges.

“One of the biggest obstacles we have for vegetation management is getting machinery that can handle our uneven Ohio landscape,” she said. “It's difficult to bring mowing equipment into the area, and it can be very unsafe for crew members to mow and trim on such steep terrain.”

Replacing frequent mechanical brush-cutting with herbicide treatments is one way to reduce the amount of time spent with dangerous equipment on steep terrain.

With Arsenal, most unwanted species are controlled in a single application, so work crews can treat large areas just once each year, following up with spot treatments as needed. And, with only 12 gallons per acre required for most applications, work crews can treat more acreage with a smaller volume of product.

To help crews stay safe while spraying, Buckeye uses ATVs equipped with two 50-gallon tanks and a spray pump with handgun. Crews park at the base of a steep area and treat vegetation by spraying from the back of the ATV or by getting off the vehicle and walking through uneven areas.
Buckeye's Tank Mix

2006:
1.5 gallons Krenite
1.5 ounces Escort
6 ounces Arsenal

2007:
1.5 gallons Krenite
1.5 ounces Escort
12 ounces Arsenal