Burlington Electric Mows Down Endangered Plants

By Steph Machado

Published 08/05 2014 07:05PM

Updated 08/05 2014 08:05PM

BURLINGTON - In Vermont, there are 65 endangered plants and 93 threatened ones on this list.

It's illegal to pick or destroy them, even by accident. That's what happened when the Burlington Electric Department mowed down some Prairie Redroot.

"Which is sort of a wood shrub, and you find it where there's sand-plain soil which is pretty unique in Chittenden County," said Deb Markowitz, the Secretary for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

Because Prairie Redroot is so rare, state officials don't publicly list where it is located. In fact, endangered species have an exemption from the public records laws.

"We don't want collectors to come and grab them. It would of course be illegal, but we also don't want to make it possible for wrongdoers to do that," Markowitz said.

Development is one of the most ways endangered species die out. During the permitting process, the state tells contractors if there are protected plants in the area.

"BED is very committed to the environment," said Mary Sullivan, the Communications Coordinator for Burlington Electric. The utility did own up to its mistake, though they are being tight-lipped about what actually happened while the incident is still being looked into.

"There was an impact on the Prairie Redroot," Sullivan said. "There's no doubt about it. It was unfortunate. BED immediately said that we will work with ANR to make this right, and we're in the process of doing that."

"Now and then something does go wrong," said Markowitz. "It's not unheard of for a contractor to have a miscommunication and end up mowing something that really is pretty precious to our state."

And in the case of the Redroot, it's a miscommunication that could hurt.

"Pollenators really like it. It's good for bees and butterflies," Markowitz explained.

The Agency of Natural Resources and Burlington Electric are still working out a solution, but Markowitz says there will likely be a fine.

Minutes from a July meeting of the Vermont Endangered Species Committee indicate there's a chance some seeds were salvaged, and could be replanted at Camp Johnson in Colchester.

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