A pair of Tunbridge organic dairy farmers testified before Vermont lawmakers on Thursday morning, six months after speaking publicly about the telecommunications wire left on their farm fields making their cows sick.
Three of Scott and Amber Hoyts’ cows died after consuming stainless steel tie-down wire, which was inadvertently cut and incorporated into their diet.
ECFiber, a communications union district seeking to expand broadband in the Upper Valley, contracted Eustis Cable to carry out the construction of the project. Eustis then hired Crammer O’Connors Fiber Genesis, who worked on utility poles on the Hoyts’ fields in the fall of 2019.
It wasn’t until the company completed that work that the Hoyts discovered yarn in their silage.
In response to the Hoyts’ experience, lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee are considering SB 166, a bill introduced by Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Addison, and Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, which “would ensure that all construction contracts contain terms and conditions specifying standards and responsibility for site clean-up.
It also establishes that a utility is ultimately responsible for incidents that cause damage during the construction of its projects. A violation of the cleaning rules adopted by the bill, which the Public Utilities Commission would regulate, would constitute an unfair act or practice under Vermont consumer protection laws.
Lawmakers said the bill will become increasingly important as Vermont, saturated with federal funding, moves to large-scale broadband expansion amid staffing shortages that often force utilities to s rely on subcontractors.
“We’re all concerned that people are getting access to these lands, rushing broadband and maybe not cleaning up the sites the way they should,” said Steven Collier of the Agency. Agriculture, who testified before the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee on Wednesday.
The Hoyts said they were unable to recover enough money to cover their costs following the alleged negligence of the subcontractor working on their land. Farmers have incurred a number of related expenses and losses – replacement of their organic feed, reduced milk production, loss of valuable herd genetics, contaminated fields and emotional distress.
An insurance policy for Crammer O’Connors Fiber Genesis expired while the subcontractor was working on the Hoyts’ fields and, for that reason, the insurance company denied the Hoyts’ original claim, according to the Hoyts’ attorney. Hoyt.
Unable to afford another season’s worth of forage and hoping their fields would be wire-free, the Hoyts cut hay that summer. Again, he was infected.
“We assume that all of our food is contaminated and our fields are still contaminated,” Scott told the committee Thursday morning. “We’re just trying to survive.”
The couple filed a lawsuit against the telecommunications companies involved last fall. Meanwhile, FX Flinn, president of ECFiber, told VtDigger that he worked all summer to bring the parties involved and the insurance companies together and come up with a settlement that would have covered the Hoyts’ ongoing costs. ECFiber has filed a motion to dismiss the Hoyts’ lawsuit.
The company filed the motion to dismiss because Hoyts’ attorney’s complaint did not match, Flinn said.
“The fact that we filed a layoff has nothing to do with whether or not we want to resolve this issue,” he said. “We desperately want this resolved.”
The Hoyts aren’t the only farmers to have discovered wire, apparently from utility projects, on their properties. Another Tunbridge farmer mowed a similar bundle of wires, but it caused no damage, said Clark Parmalee, who works for the Vermont Agriculture, Food and Markets Agency. he testified before the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry on Wednesday.
Jackie Folsom, legislative director of the Vermont Farm Bureau, told the House Judiciary Committee that the Farm Bureau chairman found wire while clearing brush along his power lines in Cambridge – an hour and a half north of Tunbridge.
“It lasts,” Folsom said. “That doesn’t mean it happens everywhere. This does not mean that everyone does this. But that’s a problem. »
Goats at Villa Villekulla Farm, also in Tunbridge, fell ill last summer from what farmer Lauren Gitlin believes to be copper naphthenate, a green, oily substance used to preserve the base of wooden electric poles and prevent them from rotting.
A contractor for Washington Electric Cooperative, a customer-owned company based in East Montpelier, Vermont, likely left the curator’s bag nearly empty in 2005, a Washington Electric representative told VTDigger last summer.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee debated whether the bill should apply specifically to public broadband services or more broadly – and whether it could include a provision to compensate affected farmers by the damage.
“I think everyone agrees that this is an issue that deserves our attention,” said Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, deputy chairman of the committee. “The bill is admirably effective in the way it respects the rules that govern this. But I think there’s a point that’s been given up in terms of rewards for people who have been hurt in those situations.
These awards, however, would not include the Hoyts.
“The farmers you’re going to hear from today recognize that SB 166 won’t help them,” Folsom told lawmakers.
Flinn, the president of ECFiber, told VTDigger on Thursday that he doesn’t oppose the bill, but his organization’s contracts already contain everything the bill says. As for how the bill tries to change the accountability framework, “it wouldn’t do anything,” he said.
“When ECFiber and ValleyNet contracted with Eustis for all the work they did for us, we wrote in those contracts that they have to clean up, they have to leave it as they found it, they have to have a insurance, they have to hire professionals over and over again,” he said.
Folsom suggested lawmakers hear from utilities that hire contractors about what’s already in the contracts.
“I haven’t had access to the contracts, but my problem is not knowing what’s in them,” she told the committee. “My problem is that if that stuff is in there, it’s not enforced.”