Woman seeing red over brown, blackberry bushes

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - A Lindale woman is seeing red over brown, blackberry bushes. Kimberly Westbrook says almost overnight, the blackberry bushes on her Smith County property died. It turns out, at the hands of her electric company. Westbrook is not the first victim, and she probably won't be the last.

"I do wonder what is it," said Westbrook. "If it's that potent, is it agent orange? What do they use?"

No, not agent orange, just a commercial grade herbicide. Westbrook says for 10 years, she and her family enjoyed the wild blackberries growing on her property. She says driving through the gate during the summer became a tradition.

"[We would] drive up, park the car and always get a handful of blackberries," she said. "We didn't spray them, so we didn't wash them. We'd just eat them right from the bush. One day while we were eating, we notice they were drying up and we didn't know what happened."

Westbrook initially suspected the neighbor's cattle that graze on the property next door, but she says her investigation led her to the electric company. Westbrook says she contacted the Public Utility Commission of Texas to file a complaint. The Commission told her that, by law, power companies are allowed to prune, or remove trees within 10 feet of high voltage power lines. No one told Westbrook.

"Yeah, I would have liked notice, 'We're going to poison your bushes. Stop eating them,'" said Westbrook.

"Because they're in a right of way with other bushes that would grow up tall, they probably were not intentionally sprayed," said Charles Hill, manager of customer operations with Oncor.

He says there is a reason for the law.

"[It is meant] to keep people [and] animals away from our power lines for their safety but also for reliability," explained Hill.

As far as the herbicide goes Hill says it's pretty safe...to humans, that is.

"It's not toxic to animals but it is toxic to plants," said Hill. "She'd have to eat a huge amount of blackberries to get any kind of effect."

"I'd like to kill some poison ivy with it," said Westbrook. "Invite them up to kill some other stuff...not my blackberry bushes."

Oncor customer operations did contact Westbrook and paid a visit to her property. They will be providing her with product safety sheets and information about those herbicides and following up with the situation.

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