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Downright Unneighborly

Frankford Residents Protest BGE’s Use Of Chemical Herbicides In Their Neighborhood

By Charles Cohen | Posted 7/20/2005

But for Gladine Harvey of the Frankford neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore, her irritation with one of her neighbors who wasn’t cutting the grass turned into trepidation when she learned that neighbor has begun substituting chemicals for a lawn-cutting crew. That neighbor is BGE, and the chemicals it has been using on the property behind her house include the plant-growth regulator Stronghold, which keeps grasses at bay by inhibiting seed development, and the herbicide Escort. Harvey was alarmed when she learned that the chemicals were being applied without so much as a warning to nearby residents.

“I believe I should have some rights, even when it involves a conglomerate like BGE,” she says. “We live here.”

Though commercial lawn-care companies are required to post signs before spraying potentially toxic chemicals in a neighborhood, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which regulates pesticide and herbicide application in the state, does not require utility companies to do so says Dennis Howard, chief of the department’s pesticide-regulation section.

That frustrates Harvey and her neighbors, who say BGE has been less-than-responsive to the community’s neighborly requests.

For the past year, Harvey has been after the utility company to maintain the seven-block-long grassy lot that serves as the footprint for some electric towers behind her house. The property, which stretches from the intersection of Force Road and Frankford Avenue along Greencrest Road to Sinclair Lane, was overgrown for months, Harvey says. As a result, it attracted rats and litter. Harvey became the self-appointed lawn lobbyist, bugging BGE to tend to the property. She became alarmed when BGE told her in August 2004 that it had decided to mow the parcel only twice a year, and instead apply herbicides to keep the unruly grasses in check.

Harvey approached the city’s Housing Department, the state Department of Environment, and federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture to complain. She even brought the matter up to U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd) at a bull roast she attended. No one could help her.

In March, Harvey finally got the ear of City Council President Sheila Dixon(D) and a BGE spokesperson. Harvey says she managed to get BGE to promise to notify residents before spraying the property with chemicals, but so far, she says, that has never happened. (She says she did notice that the company has put up a few new No Trespassing signs.)

Harvey and other residents say that BGE’s dismissiveness is an affront to the neighborhood that goes beyond the overgrown grasses.

“[People] feel they have been shunned or discriminated,” says Barbara Jackson, president of the Frankford Improvement Association. “It could all be resolved if people sat down and talked about it, but that hasn’t been done.”

“It sends a message that you have written off this neighborhood,” confirms one neighbor, who did not wish to disclose her name for this story.

Both chemicals BGE is using are registered and approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Neither is listed as being particularly hazardous to human health, and BGE spokesman Milt Branson says the spraying is part of a pilot program BGE is undertaking that is consistent with local zoning ordinances. He says that the lot in question is part of 550 linear miles of property BGE maintains throughout central Maryland, and the company has been in communication with residents about the upkeep of BGE lots in their neighborhoods. In fact, he says, some community groups have struck agreements with BGE to use the lots as neighborhood gardens or parking lots.

Branson, who has met with Harvey about the Frankford property’s maintenance, says the use of growth regulators poses no threat to the community. And just like any other resident in the area, he says, BGE is not required to take any special precautions to use them in Frankford.

“I don’t think you’re required to notify your neighbor if you’re spraying your lawn,” he says.

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