PORTLAND — With a City Council vote scheduled Jan. 3, 2018, on an ordinance regulating pesticide use, city officials are looking into what it will cost to implement restrictions on public property.
Two days after the Dec. 18 postponement of a council vote on the ordinance, city Sustainability Coordinator Troy Moon said he is gathering more information from staff on potential costs.
But a memo included in the council packet makes an initial implementation estimate of nearly $450,000, and other potential expenses could add almost another $250,000.
If passed as written, the ordinance would take effect on municipal properties on March 1, 2018. Use of certain synthetic pesticides, including herbicides, would not be allowed, unless a waiver is granted by a new Pesticide Management Advisory Committee.
Organic pesticides and “allowed” synthetics listed on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances would be permitted. The regulations would go into effect for private property owners Jan. 1, 2019.
Riverside Municipal Golf Course and Hadlock Field would be exempt from the regulations. Also exempt until Jan. 1, 2021, are five city-owned athletic fields on Fox Street, at Deering High School, Payson Park, Deering Oaks Park and Payson Park. Councilors will also vote Jan. 3 on an ordinance amendment to permanently exempt those fields from regulation.
In addition to the costs related to implementing organic pest management detailed in the regulations, the memo to councilors estimates the cost of possible turf replacement at the five fields between $100,000 and $250,000, because synthetic pesticides will be banned.
The memo details implementation costs of $25,000 for the education, training and outreach associated with the new regulations; $40,000 to fund a sustainability associate part-time position, and $60,000 to fund a full-time position for someone to focus on soil care and aeration, seeding and applying liquid organics.
The memo also outlines about $300,000 for new equipment, irrigation systems, and tanks and mixing systems for liquid organics.
Avery Yale Kamila, a founder of pesticide opponents Portland Protectors, said the potential costs should be compared with the long-term costs of exposure to synthetic pesticides linked to cancers and liver and kidney damage, among other consequences.
“I support more staffing and equipment,” Kamila said Dec. 22. “What I do know is organic is a more manual thing, pulling weeds, spreading compost.”
Also included in possible implementation costs is $24,000 needed to pay for two seasonal employees for hand weeding at the athletic fields.
Kamila and Chip Osborne want the city to realize organic pest management is also a change in philosophy and outlook on management.
“This is a big shift in a paradigm, this is like looking at soil and what it needs,” Kamila said.
Osborne, a horticulturist who founded and owns Osborne Organics in Marblehead, Massachusetts, is a board member of Washington, D.C.-based Beyond Pesticides. He has also been working with South Portland as it implements pesticide regulations approved in September 2016.
As in Portland, the South Portland regulations have been phased in, and will apply to private property owners starting in May 2018. In 2019, they will be extended to the South Portland Municipal Golf Course.
Osborne shared a draft of his thoughts on potential costs and organic pest management.
“Because the field is chemical free does not necessarily indicate that it needs $100,000 irrigation system,” Osborne said.
Osborne said he did not know what the city would implement to manage its fields, and did not doubt the potential cost of turf replacement, based on what he has seen in other places.
However, he found the premise flawed.
“It is highly unlikely that athletic fields that do not get pesticides, but (do) get a sound, comprehensive, organic program, would need to be replaced frequently,” he said. “There would have to be a serious lapse in management in order for a field to fall in disrepair that quickly.”
The city has already curtailed spraying Roundup on sidewalks to kill weeds, and reduced use of synthetic pesticides at Riverside by up to 60 percent.
Last June, golf course Supervisor Gene Pierotti said the reductions were achieved by limiting treatments on the course’s 27 holes to once every three years, with treatments made on a rotating basis.
“It has been very expensive to shift,” Pierotti said, “but cost is not really a factor, and the course has never been better.”
Riverside Municipal Golf Course, seen last summer, is exempt from the new ordinance regulating pesticide use in Portland. Synthetic pesticide use has been reduced by up to 60 percent at the course.