Housatonic Railroad sprays herbicide days before new regs

Vegetation between Hatch Pond and the railroad track shows signs of herbicide.

Bruce Bennett

Housatonic Railroad sprays herbicide days before new regs

The Housatonic Railroad Co. (HRRC) sprayed herbicide along tracks between New Milford and North Canaan days before new state laws took effect on July 1 requiring notification of spraying times and locations, local officials said Tuesday, July 2.

“They snuck it in just before they had to follow all the regulations that is in bill number 5219,” said Kent Tree Warden Bruce Bennett. “Just showed how really uninvolved they are in the environmental care.”

Cornwall First Selectman Gordon Ridgway said he was not notified by HRRC and only learned of the spraying after getting calls from witnesses.

“I did ask the railroad earlier for when they were spraying and they said they couldn’t tell me for security reasons,” Ridgway said.

After learning of the spraying, Ridgway contacted State Sen. Stephen Harding (R-30) and State. Rep. Maria Horn (D-64). The spraying occurred several days before the HB 5219 took effect, and it appears no action can be taken against HRRC.

“It’s clear why things were done when they were done,” added Ridgway.

The new bill does not outlaw the use of herbicide, but it does require railroad companies to provide 21-days' notice to Department of Transportation and elected officials in affected towns.

Bennett inspected a length of track along Hatch Pond in Kent. He said the herbicide appeared to have been sprayed about 10 feet beyond the rails of the track. The pond is within eight feet of the track in some parts.

“I called the DEEP and posted a complaint. The plants right along the edge of the water was killed, including the duckweed that was growing along in the water,” said Bennett. “It’s going to penetrate into the water table.”

DEEP was unable to send a field tester out until the following week. So Bennett acquired a kit from Torrington Area Health and took a sample of the site himself.

The spray zone appeared to reach 10-feet beyond the rails of the track. Bruce Bennett

Depending on the findings of the test, DEEP could potentially fine HRRC. But Bennett said he is more concerned about the environment than retaliation.

“I don’t want them to be sued or anything, I just want them to understand there are sensitive areas that need to be treated with caution.”

Bennett added that the new legislation is due to be renegotiated with the railroad companies and could be amended.

Cornwall Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Anna Timmel noted the HRRC is operating on a vegetation management plan from February 2024 that will remain in effect through February 2025.

Timmel said that beyond notifying necessary officials, the new legislation will not impact HRRC’s herbicide plan until next year

“Unless the law gets amended, which is possible,” she said.

As of July 6, The Lakeville Journal is awaiting response from HRRC.

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