Falmouth councilors question need for wider turnpike

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council on Monday heard a presentations from the Maine Turnpike Authority on a proposal to widen the highway between Scarborough and Falmouth.

Councilors also heard from the town’s Conservation Commission, which has proposed new rules restricting the application of pesticides.

In addition, by unanimous votes, Caleb Hemphill was re-elected chairman and Claudia King was elected to serve as vice chairwoman.

“I’m privileged and pleased to lead the council for another year,” Hemphill said.

Although Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, said no alternatives could rival the projected $150 million widening project in terms of easing traffic congestion, councilors seemed unconvinced.

“We could do a lot of different things and 12 to 15 different suggestions were considered,” Mills said Monday. “But nothing competes with adding another full lane of traffic. We’re doing the best we can to allow people to move from place-to-place unimpeded. We have a duty to keep the roadway unconstrained.”

But several councilors questioned whether building another lane would be the best solution, with King, in particular, pushing for more public transit and electric vehicle charging stations.

Newly elected Councilor Hope Cahan said she would prefer to designate temporary High Occupancy Vehicle lanes.

But Mills pointed to higher-than-average traffic growth rates and crashes between exits 44 and 53 as compelling reasons for widening the turnpike, which he called “an extraordinary avenue for commerce.”

A public advisory committee is scheduled to make its final recommendation on the proposed widening by the end of July, according to documents provided to the Town Council. MTA would then hold a final vote sometime in the fall.

Pesticides

Under the Conservation Commission’s proposed new rules, any pesticide listed as prohibited on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s list of prohibited substances would be banned from sale or use in Falmouth.

The ban would apply to both private and public property, according to Nancy Lightbody, chairwoman of the commission.

She said the overall purpose of the ban is “to safeguard the health and welfare of the residents of Falmouth and to conserve and protect Falmouth’s environment, water and natural resources by ensuring the proper use of outdoor pesticides and fertilizers.”

While the goal of the proposed ordinance is to limit the application of pesticides, Lightbody said the commission hopes to focus more on educating the public about the need for a pesticide ban and the alternatives for yard care than on fines for non-compliance.

“Throughout, we’ve felt that an education campaign is the best way” to address the issue, she said. “We want to be collaborative rather than combative.”

Lightbody said she sees the proposed pesticide rules as “an opportunity to implement positive change.”

She said through extensive research, the Conservation Commission has come to believe that pesticide use is bad for human and pet health, as well as the ecosystem, especially since so many of Falmouth’s waterways empty into Casco Bay.

There would be exceptions, too, including for commercial agriculture and horticulture, rodent control, swimming pool supplies and general use paints, stains, wood preservatives and sealants.

Lightbody said in creating the proposed ban, the Conservation Commission looked at ordinances in the 29 communities across Maine that have already instituted such measures.

She said the lesson learned is that any ban should be phased in, and the Falmouth board is recommending there be at least a two-year delay between adoption of new pesticide rules and actual implementation and enforcement.

During that time, Lightbody said, the town could embark on a public education campaign that would include offering free courses on alternative yard care management, information on the town’s website and the distribution of posters and brochures, among other outreach efforts.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said Monday that town staff would now take responsibility for moving the ball forward and getting the proposal “prime time ready” for future consideration by the Ordinance Committee.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Caleb Hemphill was chosen June 18 to serve a second term as chairman of the Falmouth Town Council.

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