Harpswell hopes to tighten limits on outdoor pesticides

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HARPSWELL — The Harpswell Conservation Commission is looking to tighten town restrictions on pesticides.

At the same time, a bill has been introduced in the Legislature seeking to limit local control of pesticides and is moving to committee.

Harpswell has had laws on the books since 2004 restricting the outdoor, non-agricultural application of pesticides called insect growth regulators, according to commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Nahf.

That law went into effect after studies began emerging that showed insect growth regulators – chemicals that interfere with insect juvenile hormone functioning, and found in products like NyGuard – were potentially harmful to  molting shellfish, Nahf said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now recognizes that those chemicals “show some toxicity to certain fish and aquatic invertebrates.”

Nahf said one of the Conservation Commission’s ongoing goals is to continue reducing pesticide usage in town.

“Our feeling was, because the nature of our town and our marine industry, that people are very attuned to the water and, if we concentrate on things that harm the water, specifically, we feel we will also reduce usage,” she said.

So in the past year the commission has looked at what has changed since Harpswell’s original ordinance was enacted. It came up with an update to the pesticide law.

In the draft of the new ordinance, the commission has rolled Harpswell’s regulations on pesticides and fertilizers into one, and renamed it the Outdoor Pesticide Control and Fertilizer Use Ordinance.

“Many fertilizer products are packaged with pesticides and called ‘weed and feed,'” Nahf said, so it makes more sense, in the future, to have the regulations in the same place.

The conservation commission has also added language restricting a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These chemicals act on an insect’s central nervous system, and have been shown to be toxic to pollinators like bees.

Neonicotinoids such as Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam are found in many over-the-counter pesticides. Nahf said that some local nurseries, like Skillins and O’Donal’s, are working on phasing out products that contain neonicotinoids.

The fertilizer portion of the new ordinance would remain unchanged: fertilizers cannot be applied within 25 feet of the maximum high-water line of a freshwater body, or within 25 feet of the highest annual tide; between 26 and 250 feet of these boundaries, only non-water soluble fertilizer, compost or composted manure may be applied.

A press release from the commission said fertilizer run-off leads to algai blooms, which can cause fish kills and ocean acidification.

The town’s code enforcement officer is charged to conduct random samplings, and fines range from $1,000-$5,000.

The ordinance also references a Maine state law that requires anyone applying pesticide for monetary compensation to be licensed by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control.

Meanwhile, a state bill, titled “An Act to Create Stability in the Control of Pesticides,” has been approved by the Legislative Council.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, is meant to “(prohibit) a municipality from adopting an ordinance that specifically applies to pesticide storage, distribution or use unless the ordinance exempts farms, nurseries, and golf courses.”

In remarks to the Board of Selectmen Jan. 7, Nahf said she believed Harpswell’s language could be amended to accommodate the state bill, if it were to come into law.

“One of our strongest defenses, perhaps, against whatever is being contemplated in the Legislature, is our shoreland status,” said Selectman Elinor Multer. Because Harpswell is so dependent on its marine resource industry, she argued, the town should have the ability to regulate chemicals that might harm certain fisheries.

“I would not assume that the Legislature is aware of this concern,” she added.

Town Planner Mark Eyerman, who worked with the Conservation Commission on the new ordinance language, said in remarks to selectmen that the new ordinance is coming at a timely moment.

Harpswell’s original pesticide ordinance was crafted in part to respond to aerial spraying meant to control brown tail moth populations. When the moths are caterpillars, their microscopic hair can cause rashes and respiratory distress in humans.

This spring saw a much higher population of brown tail moth caterpillars in Maine than usual.

The need to address this issue has many groups, such as the regional lobster council, “tuned-in again” to the pesticide issue, said Eyerman.

The Planning Board will hold a second public hearing on the ordinance on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Nahf said the Conservation Commission would then incorporate any additional feedback, and get a final draft ready for a vote at Town Meeting in March.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

The Harpswell Town Office at 263 Mountain Road.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.