Legislation restricts railroad herbicide use

LAKEVILLE — Both State Senator Stephen Harding (R-30) and State Representative Maria Horn (D-64) expressed satisfaction that a bill addressing the use of herbicides passed in the recently concluded session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Interviewed by phone on May 19, Harding said the bill, which requires railroads, including the Housatonic Railroad in the Northwest Corner, to comply with existing Massachusetts regulations on the use of herbicides to control vegetation along railroad tracks.

“I hope the folks who live along the railroad will start to see the results,” said Harding.

Horn, interviewed May 20, concurred but sounded some cautionary notes.

She said the governor has not yet signed the bill, although she expects that to happen.

There are questions of federal vs. state authority that need to be settled.

And “there are still some challenges to enforcement.”

The change that means the most to trackside communities is that railroads must submit more detailed yearly management plans than in the past, and those plans are subject to a 45-day public comment period.

Both legislators were asked about significant bills that passed in the “short session.”

Harding said he was pleased that funding for school construction in Sherman made it through the session.

He also cited the action taken against the use of PFAs ( per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), or “forever chemicals.” Harding noted that several states have taken similar action to ban or severely restrict the use of PFAs, which have multiple industrial and manufacturing uses.

“PFAs are showing up in wells,” Harding said. “This is the first step in doing something about it.”

Harding was also happy to report that the legislature now requires that when a police dog is injured or killed in the line of duty, the funds for replacing the dog now go to individual police department, not to the state.

And legislation passed that allows police more leeway in shutting down illegal street racing events.

Asked about his new role as Senate minority leader, Harding said at first the job was “overwhelming.”

“But once I got into a routine, with a good team, it worked.”

By the end of the session, “it was fun and rewarding.”

Horn said among the items that made it through the session is a bill that allows municipalities to create a “homestead exemption.” This allows towns to give homeowners a property tax break of between five and 35%, in perpetuity if the town wants.

Towns can also purchase and deploy “noise cameras,” devices that measure decibels and take photos or video of offending vehicles. Horn said to use this a town must have a noise ordinance and purchase the equipment. Violators can get warnings and fines.

Also of interest to towns is legislation that Horn said “brings clarity” to towns sharing purchased services with each other or through their regional council of governments, and legislation that adds funding for finding alternative facilities for municipal solid waste disposal and organic waste diversion programs.

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