Harpswell pesticide ordinance going to Town Meeting

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HARPSWELL — The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday voted to send Town Meeting a pesticide ordinance crafted by the Conservation Commission.

Mary Ann Nahf, who co-wrote the ordinance, said the intent is to “reduce the overall application of pesticides in town.”

It would do that by prohibiting the outdoor, non-agricultural use of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These chemicals act on the central nervous systems of insects, and some studies have shown they are harmful to pollinators, like bees.

Insect growth regulators, a type of pesticide that affects hormone functioning in juvenile insects, have been banned in town since 2004.

The ordinance also prohibits the application of any pesticides within 25 feet of the shoreland zone.

Town Planner Mark Eyerman is working on finalized language to give to selectmen before the Town Meeting  warrant is printed.

The nearly final version of the ordinance Nahf presented to selectmen on Feb. 17 contained new language that would allow state-licensed applicators to request a waiver from the codes office if pest infestations pose a risk to human health or property.

That change came about after arborists and multiple representatives from pest control and landscaping businesses spoke against provisions in the ordinance at a Jan. 20 public hearing.

Local industry concerns were not the only factor that affected the crafting of the ordinance.

At the Statehouse, a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, called “An Act to Create Stability in the Control of Pesticides,” was approved by the Legislative Council in January.

The bill, according to is summary, seeks 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 response, the Harpswell Conservation Commission wrote in exemptions to their pesticide ordinance for nurseries and golf courses.

But Timberlake’s bill was later tabled, and “I don’t think it’s ever going to see the light of day,” he said in an interview Monday.

He said “it’s a bigger fight than I want to take on,” and blamed “special interests groups” such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposes the bill, for refusing to “find any common ground.”

Timerlake used the anecdote of a nursery purchasing diseased plants and needing to treat them. If local ordinances prevented the application of pesticides, he argued, “you have to have a way for a business like that to survive.”

“I’m a farm boy and that’s what I care about,” he added. Timberlake is the owner of Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, one of the largest apple farms in New England.

He said although his bill will not come up again in this legislative session, he expects a similar one to be brought forward by another legislator in the next one.

If Harpswell passes the updated pesticide ordinance at Town Meeting March 12, it would join towns like Ogunquit, Rockland and Southport in passing municipal restrictions on pesticide use.

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

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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.